India's first ever domestic Twenty20 competition is taking place, and has reached the business end, with the top ten teams - two from each of the North, South, East, Central, and West zones - battling it out in two groups in Mumbai and Ahmedabad. India's big stars - Sachin Tendulkar to Sourav Ganguly to Rahul Dravid - are playing in the competition, yet the fan cannot watch this on television.
"We have not sold the rights to the Twenty20 championship," Ratnakar Shetty, chief administrative officer of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), told Cricinfo in Mumbai. "This tournament was not part of the original tender [for TV rights to domestic cricket]," he said. NEO Sports, which won the rights to broadcasting cricket in India, were committed to telecasting 74 days of domestic cricket, an obligation they have already fulfilled.
But, with fan attention flagging after India's early exit from the World Cup, there was an opportunity to showcase the Twenty20 event in a big way. "At the last minute it was not possible to do this. There are many things to work out, starting from production schedules," Shetty said. "We are running this edition on an experimental basis, with the World Cup also going on at the same time. At least it gives the selectors a chance to look at how the players perform."
For the BCCI, this tournament represents to some extent a change of heart. When the regime currently heading the Board took over in November 2005 they had unequivocally stated that the BCCI was not interested in taking part in Twenty20 cricket. Subsequent meetings with the ICC in Dubai have softened their stance somewhat.
The success of Twenty20 cricket - commercially and in terms of ground attendance - in England, South Africa and even Pakistan has evidently not been lost on the Indian board. Also, the ICC's inaugural Twenty20 World Championship, due to be played in September in South Africa, promises to be a high-profile and permanent addition to the cricket calendar. Given India's extremely limited experience in Twenty20 cricket - they have played just one Twenty20 international, against South Africa on their most recent tour, which they won by six wickets thanks to a clever performance from Dinesh Karthik - the BCCI needed to put in place a tournament at the domestic level.
The format has state teams playing each other within their zones, with the top two teams from each zone - Mumbai and Gujarat (West), Tamil Nadu and Karnataka (South), Railways and Madhya Pradesh (Central), Bengal and Orissa (East), Punjab and Haryana (North ) - qualifying for the next round. This has been split into two groups with Punjab, Orissa, Karnataka, Railways and Gujarat playing in Mumbai at the Brabourne Stadium and the Wankhede Stadium and the rest playing in Ahmedabad at the Sardar Patel Gujarat Stadium in Motera. The top team from each group will play the final at the Brabourne Stadium on April 21.