Jamaica Tallawahs captain Chris Gayle has thrown his support behind making a USA leg an annual part of the Caribbean Premier League's schedule, and has said he hopes the league will come back next year for the good of cricket in the US.
Speaking at the Tallawahs training session on Monday at the Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill, Florida, Gayle said that in order for the effort to get into the US market to succeed, it had to be on a consistent basis rather than the one-and-done events of the past. Gayle has toured the USA with West Indies teams to New York in 2006 and Florida in 2012, and believes the fan base is present to support cricket but that the lack of regular events has stifled momentum.
"I think the US is cricket-orientated," Gayle said. "When you look at the mixed culture here over in the US, I think you have a huge cricket base and cricket fans over here as well. I think the cricket from a West Indies point of view has been trying to break into the US market for years now. We haven't been successful so it's just always a bit of here and there.
"Hopefully the CPL will actually be consistent with having games here in the US. If it's just a one-off thing, then it'll be a problem for the game of cricket in the United States as well. If it can actually progress, I know this leg will be a good one for CPL and if it can continue next year and keep letting the people here in the US get a chance to see it live, then it should be a fantastic thing for the game of cricket here in the US as well."
The most recent tour in 2012 provided good memories for Gayle. Opening the batting for West Indies in the first of two T20 internationals against New Zealand, Gayle struck an unbeaten 85 off 52 balls and combined with Kieron Pollard for a 108-run stand in the final 6.5 overs to post a total of 209 for 2, a record for the side which stood until January 2015. A series sweep over New Zealand in Florida set the tone for their World T20 triumph over Sri Lanka a few months later and Gayle said he was happy to be back in Lauderhill.
"It was a great memory to be honest with you," Gayle said. "When you look back at it, you are always thinking what sort of wicket you're going to get to play on because a lot of cricket up here is played on the matting. We played on a wicket that was very good to bat on. I don't see any difference since I've just been out there from what happened in the past. So it should be a good wicket and hopefully a lot of runs can be scored on the wicket as well which will actually make the game more interesting.
"It's like here in the Caribbean. The sun is out, the beach is just down the road as well. I know everybody's looking forward to it. South Beach is a bit further away and everybody's having a good time as well. But it's just good to be back and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to play here again. Hopefully this will be a new beginning for CPL and will hope it progress over the next few years as well."
Gayle also recalled the first-day sellout crowd of 15,000 people in 2012 for the West Indies matches. Though attendance has been capped for the CPL at 10,000, Gayle expects the atmosphere to be just as lively and is hoping the sizeable Jamaican expat population will give Tallawahs a boost for their games against St Lucia Zouks on Saturday and Sunday to help maintain their hold on the first place heading into the playoffs.
"When West Indies actually played New Zealand here, the turnout was tremendous," Gayle said. "I think the CPL will bring out the crowd once more. The atmosphere that they've seen on TV, I'm sure they want to experience it for themselves as well so hopefully we get a good [crowd to] start on Thursday and then it'll progress over the weekend as well. So it should be a good one and I'm looking forward to it.
"I'm happy on a personal point of view as well and as a team point of view to actually be at the top of the table. So hopefully we can actually maintain the momentum which we left in Jamaica and come in here and play against the Zouks on Saturday and Sunday, win at least one of those games and then move on to the final.
"I'm sure you'll see some Jamaican flags flying around. The support is actually good for us. It'll be noisy, it's going to be a great atmosphere and hopefully everybody at the end of the day can walk away happy and then we'll move on to the finals in St Kitts."