'Mr Big Six' and the 'natural leader'
His Twenty20 stock has gone through the roof. The burly hitter has been dubbed "Mr Big Six" after his performances for Jamaica Tallawahs. After failing to register in the past for West Indies and IPL franchise Delhi Daredevils, Russell has been tagged by Jamaica captain, Chris Gayle, as their anchor, and more so, as "a player that needs to return to the West Indies fold" as soon as possible. The CPL showed why. Russell was sixth in the tournament top-scorers chart with 203 runs, and had the highest strike-rate, 189.71, for those who made at least 50 runs. With a blistering unbeaten 29 from six deliveries to banish Barbados Tridents out the semis, Russell proved his prowess in the field and all-round ability with the ball would take passenger's seat to his lusty strokes over the ropes. The icing was the unbeaten 33 from 18 in the final. Sixteen punishing sixes to lead the tournament tally sum up his high-octane stance.
The Jamaican fell to his countrymen at the final hurdle but prior to the final, he tormented Jamaica and many others over after over. Guyana Amazon Warriors had their record strewn with 16 of the most brilliant wickets on tap in the tournament through Santokie. Curtly Ambrose, the Guyana assistant coach, deemed him "the best bowler that isn't playing West Indies cricket" and when his dual-swing was on display, how could one argue with that statement? When he shattered Gayle's stumps in the prelims, it punctuated how far he had come as a bowler. Santokie's versatility with the ball remains one of his most troublesome factors. He is definitely one that can be looking at potential T20 contracts outside the Caribbean.
Having battled through the wilderness in times past, Simmons returned to the West Indies side and over the course of the past year, he's proven just why he was needed. As one of West Indies' more consistent batsmen, Simmons crafted 266 runs in nine matches, next only to Shoaib Malik, at a strike-rate of 101.14. He often laid the platform for Guyana's run to the final and his cavalier disposition was what coach Roger Harper deemed "indispensable". His team-mate and Pakistan T20 captain Mohammad Hafeez compounded his importance. "Simmons lays the foundation for us and he strikes the ball so cleanly, and with so much power, that you have no choice but to stand up and take note," Hafeez said. Simmons' form augurs well for West Indies as they visit New Zealand at year's end and with his strokes intact, fans are eager to see him and Gayle atop the order once more.
Desperate to make Pakistan take note of him again, Malik, like many players in the CPL, orchestrated a push to reignite his international career. Malik topped the batting charts with 272 runs in eight games at a strike-rate of 112.86. What made his presence even more impactful was the knowledge and leadership he imparted. His captain Kieron Pollard described him as "a natural leader who adds many dimensions to the team" and Malik himself stated, "I'm hungry to shine in cricket, wherever, whenever, for whoever". His finesse on the field and elegance at the crease won over Caribbean hearts. His passion was summed up when he said, "I don't think batsmen should be using pitches as an excuse. You go out there, adapt and make runs." It confirmed Malik was here to make a point to his critics.
At the end of the prelims, Fletcher topped the batting charts with an exquisite 238 runs at a strike-rate of 111.21. With the St Lucia Zouks eliminated after being rooted to the bottom of the table, the Grenadian ended up third, not for a lack of trying, as the CPL culminated. St Lucia struggled with two wins and five losses and Fletcher's 76 off 53 balls against Antigua Hawksbills was exemplary of the gusto and fight he showed throughout. With few players around him showing resilience, he persevered and when St Lucia went home, his captain Darren Sammy accurately described him as their best player. Fletcher hopes that being one of the few bright spots in a team lacking star power would be enough of a selling point for West Indies selectors.
Renaldo Matadeen is a sportswriter and social media manager for ESPN Caribbean. He tweets here