August 26, 2013

The people's festival

The Caribbean Premier League has been received with enthusiasm. West Indies cricket has lessons to learn from the tournament

The last fireworks have exploded in the Caribbean Premier League. The smoke has cleared but things on the ground may never be the same again. That would be a good thing.

When Albie Morkel delivered the first ball back on July 30 at Kensington Oval, no one was quite sure how things would turn out for this franchise-based professional venture, a first for West Indies cricket. Three and a half weeks later, there is no doubt about how the CPL has done.

In bars, offices, and, most tellingly, at the stadiums, the CPL has been the flavour of the month, a cricketing phenomenon from which a number of things have been learned.

Cricket is far from dead in the Caribbean
Regional competition may be sorely lacking crowds and sponsors. But this inaugural edition of the CPL showed that with the right packaging, people will come, and keep coming - to T20 cricket, at the least. If nothing else, the first edition of the CPL was a people festival.

From that opening match in Barbados right through to the grand final at Queen's Park Oval in Trinidad, where the local franchise was not represented, the crowds were huge. Ticket touts did thriving business. Even at the venues of the less successful teams, in Antigua and St Lucia, there were never-before-seen audiences.

Ample marketing of the CPL as a Caribbean party and affordable tickets kept the stands packed. And as the matches moved from island to island, the enthusiasm was contagious.

"We were very clear from the start that we wanted the CPL to be accessible to everybody," says the CEO, Damian O'Donohoe. "When you stand at the gate and watch people come in, it's whole families, grannies, granddads, mothers, fathers, kids. And that's what the CPL is all about."

Corporate Caribbean was sold on the concept also.

"Nothing short of phenomenal," is how O'Donohoe describes the response of regional companies to the tournament. "Eighty per cent of the income we've received has been local sponsorship."

Those figures should give West Indies Cricket Board CEO Michael Muirhead much food for thought.

Franchising is the way to go
Brought up on island rivalries, the concept of supporting non-national teams took some getting used to for sections of the regional population. But as the series progressed, the nationality of players became almost moot.

"You have Trinidadians playing in Barbados, and Jamaicans playing here, there and everywhere, so it's not about Trinidad versus Barbados anymore. And the competition has been very good," says West Indies coach Ottis Gibson.

"I think the response to [Kieron] Pollard in Barbados, to the first three games in Barbados especially, has been very, very good. I know he was a little bit wary of what sort of reception he would get, and I was pleased that he got such a good reception."

In this first year it was the general competitiveness and atmosphere at the matches, not a multitude of batting highlights, that defined the tournament

And despite lingering disaffection in some quarters, territories in general gained new appreciation for the region's representatives. Jamaican left-armer Krishmar Santokie must have special status now in Guyana after his Player-of-the-Series performances for Amazon Warriors.

This was regional integration by force. And there was no less an intensity to the cricket. In fact, the passion among players seemed to be even greater, every game having its element of a big occasion.

Lesser lights are on the rise
The West Indies selectors would happily have taken note that while the big stars - Sunil Narine, Dwayne Bravo, Pollard and Chris Gayle - had their moments, others normally operating in their shadows grabbed their chances in the spotlight.

Santokie, with his late swing, accuracy and clever variations, did not so much step from the shadows as remind everyone of how incisive a bowler he can be in the shortest version. He has played just two T20s for West Indies.

His countryman and fellow left-armer, the pacier Sheldon Cotterrell, from Antigua Hawksbills, also demanded that the selectors consider him in the near future.

While Cotterrell is yet to play international cricket, St Lucia Zouks opener Andre Fletcher has been tried and found wanting in the past. But in CPL 2013, he added some needed consistency to his clean hitting and competent wicketkeeping to amass 238 runs at an average of 39.66. Fletcher was a constant danger at the top. And his was the best effort from a batsman who side did not get to the knockout stage.

Meanwhile, Trinidad and Tobago Red Steel's teenaged left-hander Nicolas Pooran's audacious debut 54 against Amazon Warriors was a sign of a talent that must be nurtured carefully.

Andre Russell does not fit the bill of unknown rookie. But having lost his way and his West Indies spot in T20s and ODIs this year, he used the CPL to make a statement. His bat spoke powerful words as the tournament got to the crunch matches. And his explosive hitting gave Jamaica Tallawahs real momentum in the middle order. He was a combination of consistency at high voltage, averaging 50 with a strike rate of 189.

Russell's bowling still is not where it should be, but this tournament must have done his confidence much good.

The benefits of foreign aid
Not all the overseas pros who came through the draft were hits. But Tallawahs would not be champions today had they not had Vernon Philander and the evergreen Muttiah Muraliatharan. Both were positive influences on and off the field. And Philander did his case for limited-overs selection for South Africa no harm, displaying guile to go with his trademark control.

Mohammad Hafeez, for Amazon Warriors, played one of the knocks of the tournament, a nerveless, breezy 50 in Antigua to deny Hawksbills a place in the semi-finals. His New Zealander team-mates Martin Guptill and James Franklin were even bigger influences on Warriors' progress to the final, while Pakistani Shoaib Malik carried Barbados Tridents' batting for a tournament-high 272 runs.

And while they were late in coming, Sri Lankans Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara brought their class to bear with Player-of-the-Match performances for Amazon Warriors and Tallawahs in the two semi-finals.

Once the word spreads, the CPL should attract more star quality in future.

In this first year, however, it was the general competitiveness and atmosphere at the matches, not a multitude of batting highlights that defined the tournament.

Tweak the pitches and the format
Totals were generally on the low side. Blame the sluggish pitches. Pitch quality must improve if the CPL as a cricket product is to grow Teams had to work too hard for their runs, especially in the semi-finals in Trinidad. It was not the ideal recipe for a T20 extravaganza. But not even this long-standing problem for West Indian administrators could spoil the Caribbean party the CPL undoubtedly was.

In their post mortems, the organisers may want to look again at the round-robin format, where all teams did not meet, home and away. They may also want to reconsider predetermining the venues for the knockout matches and potentially denying the more deserving sides the chance to play before their fans. Not much tweaking is necessary however.

"We are now where we expected to be in year three," says O'Donohoe. The CPL has hit on a winning formula. It must stick to its solidly planted roots.

Garth Wattley is a writer with the Trinidad Express

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Android on August 28, 2013, 10:12 GMT

    cpl has shown how well cricket can be branded if its put together in the right package.countries like US and China should adopt such tactics.

  • Anver on August 28, 2013, 4:59 GMT

    Good beginning...... a real Calypso style of a tournament, wish with little bit of time adjustments more Asian fans can watch this carnival atmosphere !!!!

  • Dummy4 on August 28, 2013, 1:41 GMT

    BRUTALANALYST give the standard comment about Caribbean pitches. But the Bardados pitch over the past 6 years has not been anywhere near what it was in the past. In fact in the CPL no pitch played better than Sir Viv Stadium, Antigua. Fast bowlers,spinners and attacking batsmen all had a liking for it. Kensington in Barbados was generally low and slow and it was over done in favour of bowlers for the Trinidad match. One of the things that is going to benefit Caribbean Cricket is for us to let go of the long outdated perceptions that are now not true and see things for what they really are.

  • Earl on August 27, 2013, 16:37 GMT

    Local sponsors could not trust WICB.WICB had the habit of spending more money on lawyers against their own players than paying or looking after the players.This does not make for good marketing.Then the other problem is the selectors,they continue to pick the same guys and not give others a chance.We go into 3 versions of the game with the same players,while the other teams make substantial changes.Our left arm bowlers are completely forgotten.Hence the opposing bats men do not have to change their sight lines.W.I has good left arm bowlers capable of taking wickets.Lets hope these guys get a chance to go to New Zealand.We got rid of the old leadership,next the selectors.Lara,Richards,Walsh,Ambrose,Greenidge and the people who follow the game most Dujon and Bishop would be ideal selectors.

  • suresh on August 27, 2013, 15:07 GMT

    some ex greats wants t20 to be reduced but t20 is the format which makes cricket live in coming years.

  • Dummy4 on August 27, 2013, 9:33 GMT

    The next step in the development of local cricket in the Caribbean is the education of the grounds management. I wonder how many Head groundsmen have ever done a sample test of their pitch to see what the qualities are like and to look at how they can make them better. Pitches in the Caribbean should be hard and fast--that's how we play our game and that's how we should be preparing our home pitches.

  • Dummy4 on August 26, 2013, 19:16 GMT

    Agree with most if not all that Brutalanalyst wrote above. I'll add STL as a fast pitch as well WICB needs to work on their marketing of the WICricket brand. CPL needs a feeder system like another tourney that will showcase future WI T20 hopeful cause how else will the teams be chosen or other players be showcased? Great year for the CPl must add really was great looking at the matches and seeing the crowds just cheering for their home teams or the opponents. G

  • o on August 26, 2013, 11:45 GMT

    Good article Garth all good points. The pitches have been issue for a while now and should be W.I focus not just fot T20's especially when you have Asian sides coming here and having pitch advantage. Saying that we don't want to create flat deck roads like India where there is nothing in it for bowlers, but I agree other than Barbados and maybe Jamaica most pitches do not have much in them for either fast bowlers or batsman right now. I agree more stars and T20 specialists will be attracted but CPL does not want to make mistake fo having to many in an 11 as there is a lot of local talent 3 is enough just the quality needs to be there. Hopefully WICB can take some pointers and try to get same kind of atmosphere for W.I games big crowds are so vital for players of all sports it makes such a difference either way CPL was great and is an exciting new chapter for W.I cricket.

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