Maturing CPL seeks growth spurt
You know you are in the Caribbean when the music is louder than is necessary and the venue for the Caribbean Premier League draft was no different. Even with an 11am start there was pumping soca music and scantily clad carnival dancers. A steel drum band was at the entrance to welcome the guests and a DJ was given pride of place in the middle of the hall. This is very much the vibe that the CPL organisers are going for, the tournament they say is as much about celebrating the hedonistic party culture that the West Indies is famous for as it is about showcasing T20 cricketing talent. Whether they succeed in this endeavour is for those that attend to judge.
The draft itself took place underneath a now decommissioned Concorde airplane, with many of the great and good of West Indian cricket in attendance as well as the owners of the six franchise teams, five of which are now in private hands. A connection with the IPL was begun last year with Shah Rukh Khan adding to his ownership of the Kolkata Knight Riders with the purchase of the Trinidad & Tobago team. This year Vijay Mallya, owner of the Royal Challengers Bangalore, has bought the Barbados team.
KKR have cemented that relationship with a rebranding that has seen the Trinidad & Tobago side given the moniker of "Trinbago Knight Riders". Vijay Mallya is more reticent about a name change.
"I know that Bajans love their cricket. Barbados has produced some of the best cricketers… and the Trident is the national symbol. So I am very conscious of, and very sensitive to, that fact," Mallya said. "So right now it is going to be the Tridents and for the foreseeable future I am going to build the Tridents brand. I think that is more important."
Just what this Indian connection will mean for the league is far from certain, but Venky Mysore who acts as CEO of both the Kolkata and "Trinbago" versions of the Knight Riders was keen to point out that they wanted to make the link up as strong as possible. He made it very clear that in an ideal world the BCCI would allow Indian players to take part, although that is unlikely to happen any time soon. But you would suspect that if anyone was going to get the BCCI to soften its stance on Indian player involvement in foreign T20 leagues it will be those who are involved in both the IPL and leagues elsewhere.
The draft itself threw up a surprise as soon as it began. Guyana Amazon Warriors used the $160,000 bracket to select Pakistani left armer Sohail Tanvir. Roger Harper, the coach of the Amazon Warriors, was comfortable with the call. "He offers us depth in the batting and he is an excellent T20 bowler," he said.
The other players in that top pay bracket were Chris Gayle, Lendl Simmons, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and South Africa's David Miller. Shahid Afridi had set his minimum salary in this price bracket but no one was willing to purchase his services for that figure so he went unselected.
As is often the case with these events it is the players that aren't selected that are more interesting than those that do get picked up. Amongst those that will not be playing in this year's event are the disgraced Pakistani trio of Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Amir and Salman Butt, all of whom who put their name in the draft.
While each team was obliged to select at least one player from the ICC Americas region, none of the other 15 Associate nation cricketers in the pot got a deal.
Also missing are all of the centrally contracted West Indies player as there will be a clash with India's tour to the Caribbean during the CPL. This has led to some interesting personnel changes, with St Kitts & Nevis Patriots replacing Marlon Samuels as captain with Faf du Plessis.
The CPL's CEO and COO, Damien O'Donohoe and Pete Russell, are upbeat about a clash, feeling that rather than it distracting from the event it will actually generate some interest in the CPL in India. "There is going to be a clash of dates, and that is why we have been working with the WICB to make sure we have a schedule that works as best as possible with the Indian tour," O'Donohoe said.
"What is great is we will have these guys at the games, there will be a lot of Indian media in the region which is great," Russell added.
While there is a large South African presence amongst the players drafted Dale Steyn has missed out on a CPL stint even with the relatively low minimum price of $40,000. However Hashim Amla, Du Plessis and Miller all made the cut. Perhaps most controversially of all AB de Villiers has been selected as one of the Marquee Players for this year's tournament. Having so emphatically said that he wants time off from cricket there will be those that question him spending six weeks away from his family while playing for the Barbados Tridents.
The big winners other than those in that top bracket where Nicholas Pooran and Rovman Powell. Pooran missed last year's event due an injured sustained in car crash but had impressed in the 2013 and 2014 tournaments. The Barbados Tridents picked him up for $90,000 after they tried to select Denesh Ramdin, who will be with the West Indies and as a result unavailable. They clearly had an eye on a wicketkeeper and selected Pooran for the job.
Powell is a player for the Combined Colleges and Campuses side and is yet to play a game of professional T20 cricket. Despite this inexperience he was purchased for $40,000 by the Jamaica Tallawahs. When asked why he was selected owner Manish Patel said he bats and bowls like Andre Russell and that he was a young man they were keen to invest in.
The final dates for the event are yet to be finalised with discussions between the CPL organisers and the WICB still on-going, but it seems certain that those players that have been bought will be playing from late June until early August, with six matches taking place in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The CPL is growing year on year, there were 92 million viewers worldwide last year and a 44% increase in attendances compared with 2014. It will be interesting to see if the American sojourn and the overseas stars that have been selected will see those numbers increase further. Much of the attraction of the CPL has been the island vibe so taking the tournament elsewhere is a risk, but such is the riches on offer if they can make the USA work as a market for the league it is one they appear very willing to take.
Peter Miller is a cricket writer and podcaster. @TheCricketGeek