Thursday saw the draw for the second edition of the European Cricket League take place; 15 champion teams from 15 countries, + 1 runner up in H.B.S. Craeyenhout were drawn into 4 groups of 4 ahead of the tournament starting 31st May. Here’s my view of what went down:
The draw was presented by ECL commentator and pundit Vinny Sandhu, and joined by special guest and cricketing cult-hero from ECL19 Pavel Florin. Whilst not an extravagant event, the draw, live-streamed to Facebook, gave off the very professional vibe I’ve come to associate with the ECL; everything was smart and simple. No need for a flashy venue, celebrity endorsement or a glitzy setup that might be associated with other private cricket leagues. Just the background to the competition and the draw. One thing that made me smile was having the teams drawn from miniature wooden bats, it’s a cricket competition after all.
Simple, effective tournament format
At 16 teams, the ECL is actually large for a cricket tournament, especially compared to the ICC’s attempts at global events! The 16 teams are broken down into 4 groups of 4, each playing 3 group matches against their opposition. The top 2 in each group progress to the quarter finals, and from there it’s a good old-fashioned knockout to decide the winner. At 32 games, it’s also quite short for a cricket tournament, particularly when compared to ICC tournaments and franchise leagues around the world. For comparison, the 2019 World Cup was 48 matches, the T20 World Cup later this year will be 45, the IPL and BBL are 60 and 61 respectively. In this writer’s opinion, after 40 games in any kind of quick succession, a tournament reaches saturation point. More than 50 and it gets boring.
The tournament format for ECL20 is welcome and parallels the old format for the UEFA European Championship (Euros) prior to 2012 and before, so a format many European sports fans will be familiar with. 32 games over 8 days mean 4 T10 matches per day, back to back. Resultantly, we can expect group stage action of the first 6 days (Sunday through Friday), with the 4 quarter-finals on the Saturday and the semi-finals and final on the Sunday.
One the flipside, the tournament has dropped the placement playoffs that it ran in 2019. It would have been nice for the weaker teams eliminated in the group stages to get one final shot at glory in the final days of the tournament and give all the teams a final ranking, akin to the currently concluding Under-19 World Cup. Whilst Daniel Weston and his team must find a way to cram as much cricket as possible into a short space of time and create a dynamic product to break into an essentially saturated European (and global) sports market, the tournament would do well to keep in mind giving the smallest cricketing nations a fair amount of exposure and screen-time.
In the build-up the draw it was anticipated the teams might go into the pot ‘unweighted’. Whilst it may have thrown up some highly charged group fixtures, the potential for ‘groups-of-death’ meant it was not a risk the ECL was willing to take. Instead the teams were organised into pots based on their national team ranking. A fair move to ensure fairly even groups, but of course, the standard of the national team is not entirely indicative of the standard of the best clubs. Moreover, the nascent ICC T20 rankings are a bit naff, and don’t have enough matches to be accurate for all teams. It means that Cluj of Romania, who finished 8th and last in ECL19, were in pot 3, whilst Dreux of France, who finished 5th and beat Cluj last summer, was in pot 4. Are the groups truly even? We won’t find out until the summer.
In brief, the draw fell out as follows:
Group A: Helsinki C.C. (Finland), Lund C.K (Sweden), FCA 04 Darmstadt U.S.C.C. (Germany), Swardeston C.C. (England)
Group B: Moscow Foxes (Russia), Cluj C.C. (Romania), H.B.S. Craeyenhout (Netherlands), Forfarshire C.C. (Scotland)
Group C: Ostende Exiles C.C. (Belgium), Bjorvika C.K (Norway), Latina C.C. (Italy), V.O.C. Rotterdam (Netherlands)
Group D: Dreux S.C.C. (France), Minhaj C.C. Barcelona (Spain), Skanderborg Stingrays C.C. (Denmark), CIYMS C.C. (Ireland)
It was inevitable, but even before we get to the knockouts there are some huge games to look forward to:
Old rivals, new rules
When you think of England vs Germany, it’s hard not to think of international football. Whether it’s the 1966 World Cup final or penalties in the 1990 World Cup or 1996 Euros, there’s been an intense rivalry bubbling away for a while. For fans of motorsport, many may think of Michael Schumacher vs Damon Hill in 1994 or the more recent history between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton.
But when English side Swardeston take on German representatives Darmstadt in their group A encounter, it will be the first time ‘England’ has met ‘Germany’ in a competitive cricket fixture. The old rivalry will take on a new form and whilst Swardeston will be clear favourites, the Germans will fancy an upset, and have even suggested a bowl-out to settle the tie!
H’s are wild
With 5 teams representing Europe’s top 4 cricketing nations, and 4 groups in which to put them, there was going to be one team acting as an ace in pot 2. They were H.B.S. Craeyenhout, home of Dutch international Tobias Visee. Drawn in Group B, they will face up against Scottish champions Forfarshire, club of Scottish internationals Craig Wallace and Michael Leask. It promises to be a cracker.
Opportunity Comes Knocking
Pavel Florin drew his own club, Cluj C.C. into group B, along side Russian side Moscow Foxes. In 2019, both Cluj and Moscow’s compatriots in the St. Petersburg Lions went home without a win. Since they must face each other in Group B, one of them will go home with their federations first ECL win and with stiff competition from Craeyenhout and Forfarshire, Cluj vs Moscow might be the only shot at glory for both. Who will take victory?
Group of Death?
Despite a strong showing in 2019, Dreux found themselves in pot 4 in 2020. They were drawn into Group D, alongside Minhaj C.C. of Spain, Skanderborg of Denmark and CIYMS of Ireland. With Dreux clearly a competitive side, and the Spanish and Danish sides both making the knockout stages in 2019, competition over 2nd in Group D will be fierce. Add into the mix the possibility that CIYMS may be without their professional stars – including Ireland all-rounder Mark Adair – due to a clash with the Irish interprovincial series, and you’re left with a very open group.
Since all these European countries are jammed together in a small but densely populated continent, it was all but inevitable that teams would be drawn against their next-door neighbours. ECL20 gave us three such contests. Group A pits Sweden against Finland in a Viking-esqe clash. Group C see lowland nations Netherlands and Belgium take each other on, a fixture which sees V.O.C. player Corey Rutgers play against the representatives of the country he coaches. Divided by the Pyrenes, but united by being in Group D, the Spanish and French teams will also battle it out in a group stage clash.
I fear we will be spoilt by the action and the drama in this year’s ECL.