Friday, October 24, 2008

Three nations plan joint IPL spin-off

Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have confirmed they are planning a multi-nation franchise-owned Twenty20 tournament based on the IPL, which they hope to launch by 2011. Although the competition is still in the planning stages, the idea is to have city-based teams and schedule it at a time that would allow Indian stars to take part.

The concept will involve two separate conferences - an eastern division based in Africa and a western division in Australasia - and the top sides from each will progress to the finals. It will not replace the existing domestic Twenty20 competitions; instead it is most likely to be held in October with each nation free to also retain their state- or provincial-based tournaments.

The organisers want the competition to feed teams into the Champions League Twenty20. The southern hemisphere-based tournament, which as yet has no name, is another indication of the growing dominance of Twenty20.

The first season of the IPL was massively popular this year in India, where there is also the unsanctioned ICL competition, while England will soon be playing for US$20 million in the Stanford Super Series. Peter Young, Cricket Australia's spokesman, conceded it will be a challenge to squeeze the new tournament in but the organisers were confident it could be achieved.

"It'll be short, sharp and very focused but the exact number of games is yet to be determined,"

Young said.

"Strategically we see that there's a finite amount of Twenty20 cricket that's likely to be ideal, with a number of major global blocks."

There is still a way to go before the finer details can be finalised, including the number of teams. There is also potential for the African conference to feature sides not based in South Africa and for the Australasian division to have teams from outside Australia and New Zealand. Domestic players are likely to feature heavily but the three boards are keen to ensure international stars, from India or England, for example, take part.

"Gathering a large number of the world's marquee players into a single competition over a compressed time-frame can capture the public imagination and create new audiences for cricket,"

Justin Vaughan, New Zealand Cricket's chief executive, said.

"The challenge for the three southern-hemisphere boards is to create the stage for that opportunity to be captured in a way which complements international cricket."

Cricket Australia has been considering a franchise-based Twenty20 system for some time. James Sutherland, the chief executive of Cricket Australia, said it had become clear that to reach a critical mass, a regional approach was needed.

"The idea developed out of blue-sky Twenty20 thinking over the past 18 months,"

Sutherland said. "Regional-level Twenty20 cricket played at the level immediately below international cricket has shown it can capture the public imagination and create new audiences for cricket.

"But as we have seen in India, it needs critical mass to generate major public excitement. The regional concept we have been charged with developing provides that critical mass."

Cricket Australia is also keen to increase the international focus of its state-based Twenty20 tournament. From 2009-10 it will encourage the six state teams to recruit star players from overseas.

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