Soggy end betrays smart start
For the first match of the Limacol Caribbean Premier League for 2014, the clouds hovered all game without a drop of rain falling. But in the last match, the grand finale, showers spoiled the party, allowing Messrs Duckworth and Lewis to decide the outcome of the game with just 25 balls left to be completed.
For several minutes before Kieron Pollard and his Barbados Tridents emerged on the field to celebrate their victory at Warner Park in St Kitts, television viewers and those in the packed audience stared at an empty field. The covers were removed, but there was no sign that play was about to resume. It later turned out there was a dispute about the application of Duckworth-Lewis, leading the losing Guyana Amazon Warriors to contest the outcome.
The heavy sense of anti-climax that concluded the final night was not typical of the previous five weeks. The sun shone often and the crowds came out again for the "Biggest Party in Sports". And yes, the cricketers put on a show.
Second seasons can often be more difficult than first ones for successful enterprises. Jamaica Tallawahs, for instance, could not get back to the final to defend their title. And for 2014, the CPL faced the challenge of meeting the high expectations raised by the first year in 2013, and of improving on the product.
Cheap tickets, night cricket, and a sense of novelty brought large crowds out at all venues in season one. The cricket, while acceptable, suffered from some less than ideal playing surfaces. But in 2014, the bar was raised in this area. The numbers tell the story.
In 2013, the highest team total was 179 for 4 by St Lucia Zouks. That was one of only three totals in the 170s. In 2014, the top score crossed 200 - 212 for 5 by Amazon Warriors. In addition, there were two totals of 190-plus, four of 180-plus, and seven of 170-plus.
The individual scoring mirrored the improvement in team output. Lendl Simmons, who was named Man of the Tournament, amassed 446 runs at the top of the order for Amazon Warriors from 11 innings. That was 174 runs more than 2013 top scorer Shoaib Malik's 272 in eight innings. This season, Malik finished behind Simmons on 406 runs from ten innings.
Outside of the top two, the CPL's second season was also more highly productive for marquee players. Jamaica Tallawahs captain Chris Gayle had his best showing in the last 12 months at any level. He got one of four centuries in the tournament in compiling 363 runs, while Barbados Tridents opener Dwayne Smith reprised his IPL form in lashing 353 runs, inclusive of two hundreds.
Teams did play a couple more matches each in the second season, but the numbers bear testimony to pitches that gave batsmen more opportunity to play their shots while still giving the bowlers a chance. So whereas in the first edition the slower, more spin-friendly surfaces saw three spinners among the top-five wicket-takers, the top five this year were all seamers, headed by Ravi Rampaul of Tridents, with 18 wickets.
The conditions also ensured some memorable finishes. Amazon Warriors and Trinidad and Tobago Red Steel produced the first tie and Super Over in the CPL, which "mystery" spinner Sunil Narine won for Warriors with another bewitching display. Red Steel turned the tables in the return match in Trinidad, when Darren Bravo won the game with a six off the last ball. Andre Russell, who lit up the CPL with devastating boundary-hitting, twice produced victory from defeat, most notably in the first semi-final, against Red Steel. Some of Russell's fielding was as breathtaking as his shot-making.
Amazon Warriors' defence of 173 in Barbados against Tridents, who came up seven runs short despite Smith's unbeaten 104, was another gripping game. The top four teams were evenly matched, and at different stages of the season the winners could have come from any one of them.
The concern for the organisers, however, must be the continued underperformance of Zouks and Antigua Hawksbills. Despite changes in personnel and coaches, the teams based in the Windward and Leeward Islands were sources of easy points for the others. Darren Sammy's Zouks won two of their nine matches, and Hawksbills, under Marlon Samuels, just one, their final game against Red Steel, which denied Dwayne Bravo's team straight passage to the final.
Last season too, Zouks and Hawksbills failed to make the semi-final round. Perhaps if overseas player Kevin Pietersen had been available before their semi-final chances had gone, things might have been different for Zouks.
On the matter of overseas pros, while some stood out - like Malik, New Zealander Martin Guptill for Amazon Warriors, and South African seamer Rusty Theron of Tallawahs, too many did not contribute as much as they might have been expected to do, while others were outright failures. Largely, it was the established West Indian stars who held the spotlight. However, budding Barbadian allrounder Jason Holder was one emerging talent who did his reputation no harm in the CPL. And if there was a prize for Best New Player, it would have gone to Red Steel left-hand opener Evin Lewis for his fearless, aggressive strokeplay.
All things considered, the CPL's second season gets a passing grade. The decision to play the majority of matches in daylight hours was a brave one, and designed to attract prime-time viewership outside the Caribbean. Time will tell if that move paid off in terms of revenue earned.
Off the field, however, there are issues to be dealt with, namely how the league's management deals with controversy. The 30-minute lull after the rain in the final, when the crowd and TV viewers waited in ignorance for a restart with stumps back in the ground, was not a good advertisement. In a sense, it was not too different to the way the CPL dealt with the brouhaha over the name of the Trinidad and Tobago franchise.
It was Dwayne Bravo's public tirade over the dropping of the Trinidad and Tobago name from the team's title that alerted the public to an issue that had been raised last September by T&T's then minister of sport, Anil Roberts. Following his side's first match, Bravo told the media he had only officially learned of the name change at the toss. However, it took a public demand from Roberts for clarification before the CPL's CEO, Damien O'Donohoe, finally made a statement - though not a comprehensive one - on the matter.
Eventually, further government intervention was needed before the Red Steel franchise was allowed to use the T&T name once more. A clear and definitive explanation on the matter by the CPL before a ball was bowled in the season would have eliminated much of the negative press that it seemed so keen to avoid in the first place. The organisers chose to deal with their problem through silence, hoping it would all blow over. It didn't.
For their own reputation, and the continued growth of the league, a more forthright approach is needed towards the CPL's business. Or this season could be a sign of more anti-climaxes to come in future.
Garth Wattley is a writer with the Trinidad Express