A fresher and more energetic unit, rebuilt in the offseason to make up for the loss of several key senior players, will be vital to Jamaica Tallawahs' chances of securing a third CPL title, according to their coach Paul Nixon.
On the eve of the tournament's opening weekend in Florida, Nixon believes that while some of the departures created challenges, the overall depth of the squad and younger legs in the field may help the defending champions in their bid to secure consecutive titles.
"We've got a different brand of cricket now," Nixon told ESPNcricinfo, before the team's back-to-back matches against Barbados Tridents in Florida. "We had a lot more hitters then, now we have to be a lot smarter."
The three biggest names missing from the squad are Chris Gayle, Chadwick Walton, and 2016 CPL Player of the Tournament Andre Russell. Nixon was reconciled to Gayle and Walton's departures - with the former's skills in decline and the latter accepting a hefty pay rise from Guyana Amazon Warriors - but admitted that Russell's absence as part of an anti-doping violation still stings. The team has acquired Lendl Simmons, fresh off a good IPL in which he scored two fifties in seven matches for Mumbai Indians.
"For us, Andre Russell is a frustrating one," Nixon said. "But we've got world-class players coming in. We've got Lendl Simmons, who had an outstanding IPL and for us to have his quality and his experience, I think he's going to be one of the men of the tournament. We've got some other good young guys in the side as well."
Among the newer faces, Nixon picked 20-year-old Odean Smith, who has played for West Indies Under-19s. The coach is hopeful Smith can pick up some of the slack in Russell's absence, while also lifting fielding standards, an area that was exposed as the team's weakness towards the end of the regular season.
"We've got Odean Smith, who is a really attacking batsman, bowls very high 80s, pushing 90 mph and is a really attacking fielder. He's going to bring a massive amount of positivity. Some of the older guys, having Chris out of the field… Chris cost us a few runs in the field because he was an older guy who struggled a bit with his knee and his back. We're an exciting fielding unit and now we've got to be a little bit smarter without the big hitters."
Nixon believes Pakistan's left-arm spinning allrounder, Imad Wasim, is a player the team can build around. Imad, who was also a part of Pakistan's Champions Trophy-winning squad earlier this year, was Man of the Match in the CPL 2016 final, taking 3 for 21 to dismiss Guyana Amazon Warriors for 93.
"Immy is a guy who has had a massive amount of experience in the last 12 months," Nixon said. "From being a star with the ball last year, one of the very best. We had Garey Mathurin and also Imad who were outstanding left-arm spinners last year. Responsibility with the ball is never an issue with those guys and Imad is very keen to bowl up front. He loves it when batsmen come after him.
"But he didn't have that many opportunities with the bat last year and hopefully he won't this year if our top order can do the business but a perfect guy, a left-hander to come in 5, 6, 7, somewhere in there. It depends on the pitches and we'll see how it goes but he's not a guy that's going to clear the ropes too many times. He'll hit it in the gaps and works hard in those gaps and he's a good accumulator. On the belting pitches, then he might have to come down the order but on the turning pitches, a bit more Pakistan-like pitches, there might be an opportunity to bring him up."
In terms of medium-pace allrounders, Rovman Powell and Timroy Allen have also been earmarked as options to take on the finishing role in the lower-middle order that Russell excelled in. Both are still raw in terms of experience but have shown flashes of their ability to clear the ropes. Nixon says the most important thing for them to do to develop further is to maintain consistency.
"Rovman was a massively inexperienced cricketer with huge natural ability for striking the ball. He played a really nice innings in the preseason where he got in, knocked it around and then dominated. We all expect so much so soon. Rovman's got the ability to change games, win matches and clear the ropes easily but you have to earn the right to do that in matches generally over a consistent period of time. He's learning about his options to each bowler, the right areas to hit and every ball is not just a corker that he can smash out of the ground.
"Timroy and Rovman are both similar characters. They can both hit the ball out of the ground consistently well. It's just making sure that their role in the team is the right role. Timroy is the perfect guy for a coach to come in the team with eight or 10 balls left, go and strike it at 150 or 200. So if he can get 20 off 10 balls then that's what we're looking for. As a coach having those guys up your sleeve is really important."
After a week of training in Jamaica before coming to Lauderhill, Nixon is eager for their campaign to get underway. He's also hoping that their fortunes in Florida change - the team lost their pair of games against St Lucia Zouks last year.
"We knew that we'd organised to go through [the playoffs], so we probably took our foot off the gas a little bit, great lessons for us all. But Florida cricket, people over here, the passion for the game, the ground is looking fantastic, the wickets are always fantastic here. So we're looking to setting off our campaign really well."