Two of the biggest names to lend legitimacy to the inaugural edition of the tournament were Steven Smith and David Warner, available due to their Cricket Australia ban handed down in the wake of the Cape Town ball-tampering fiasco from earlier this year. Unfortunately, their rehabilitation tour did not go entirely to plan.
Despite scoring a half-century on tournament debut, Smith's Toronto Nationals side lacked chemistry and eventually finished last. Warner scored 12 runs in his first five innings for Winnipeg Hawks, finding strange ways to get out. He finally came around with scores of 42 and 55 against Edmonton Royals to take Hawks into a de facto semi-final with Vancouver Knights before reverting to his earlier form, bagging a golden duck to open the chase in a loss that knocked them out of the tournament.
Mandatory Associate picks is a good rule
Copying off part of the model used by the Hong Kong T20 Blitz and the Caribbean Premier League, each of the five franchise teams (excluding the West Indies B side), was forced to draft two Associate players in their squads. Four players from UAE, three from USA, two from Hong Kong, and one from Nepal got great opportunities to show they can stand toe-to-toe with high profile stars.
At the top of the list was Sandeep Lamichhane. The Nepalese legspinner's stock rose higher with Montreal Tigers after his three-game stint with Delhi Daredevils in the IPL. Another Associate star who shone in a big way was Hong Kong captain Babar Hayat from the champion Vancouver Knights, who finished with 146 runs at 36.50 and a strike-rate of 175.90.
Perhaps most exciting was the revival of USA's Ali Khan, whose consistently threatening new-ball swing and yorker death spells for Hawks got him a CPL recall on Monday, when he was announced as replacement for Ronsford Beaton with Trinbago Knight Riders. These three showed what kind of talent is out there in the Associate world if given an opportunity.
No mandatory Canada players is not a good rule
The positive steps to include more Associate players broadly were counterbalanced by the lack of a mandate to have Canada players in the starting XI. Four Canada players had to be drafted according to the Global T20 Canada league rules, but there was no requirement to play them. It meant there was extra emphasis on "Global" and not so much on "Canada" when teams took the field.
Canada captain Nitish Kumar and Saad Bin Zafar, who was Man of the Match in Knights' title victory with 2 for 26 and an unbeaten 79, were the only two Canada players to play every match for their franchise. Otherwise, a total of 12 local players took the field in a combined 23 games while some quality talent sat on the bench.
Ruvindu Gunasekera, a hard-hitting opener, spent the last two Canada winters playing first-class cricket in Sri Lanka and topped the Sri Lanka T20 charts this spring with 272 runs at an average of 136, striking four fifties in five innings. Srimantha Wijeratne scored an unbeaten hundred against a Nepal attack led by Lamichhane at WCL Division Two in February. Neither saw a match for the Knights. Hamza Tariq, who has a CPL contract with Trinbago Knight Riders, sat behind Hawks' first choice keeper Ben McDermott all tournament.
West Indies B players got tremendous opportunities to develop on the field, thanks to a league tie-in with Cricket West Indies. Most would not have gotten to play under normal circumstances, considering 23 other West Indians were taken in the draft ahead of them. They made the most of their good fortune though, to make it all the way to the final. Those opportunities need to happen for Canada players too, especially since its their own franchise competition.
Get a better facility than King City
The best way to describe Maple Leaf Cricket Club might be "last option available". There is little permanent infrastructure on site, whether that is practice nets, stadium seating, a TV broadcast and media centre, or food concession stalls and toilets.
It's also an hour's drive north to get there, even more if traffic bottlenecks due to its entrance on a single-lane road. Characterising Maple Leaf CC in King City as being a ground in Toronto is like saying an English T20 competition played in Reading is actually in London.
Cricket Canada president Ranjit Saini claimed when the league was announced in February that organisers were looking at venue options in, or near, downtown Toronto. These included the far better resourced and geographically more appealing Toronto Cricket Skating & Curling Club, which staged the late 1990s Sahara Cups between India and Pakistan. But considering Cricket Canada's lukewarm relationship with TCC, no deal was reached.
Finding a better facility in Toronto to hold matches, let alone good facilities in other Canadian cities, should be high priority, but it's hard to tell if it is so. Mercuri Canada director Ashit Patel said in a video interview that he envisions taking league games to "Vancouver or maybe someday a game in New York." It's difficult to see how playing games in New York will achieve the Mercuri Group's oft-stated aim of investing in Canadian cricket to help them qualify for the 2023 World Cup.
Define the target market
Who are the fans the league organisers are trying to gain the attention of? The rights to show the matches in Canada went to Asian Television Network, who put it on a subsidiary channel called Commonwealth Broadcasting Network, which is billed as a channel specialising in cricket content.
CBN is only accessible as a pay-per-view channel, with a cost of $4 to $7 per month depending on the provider, meaning it is not even included in the South Asian speciality bundles let alone the standard cable packages. The point is, only hardcore fans sold on or actively seeking out cricket content were likely to access it instead of the broader Canadian public, which helps paint a better picture of what happened on the ground at King City.
Midweek matches initially had a 4 pm local start time ostensibly to draw a post-work crowd, but after dismal turnouts totalling in the 200-400 range at the 7000 seat pop-up stadium, start times for midweek games were moved to 11 am, seemingly in an effort to catch the attention of the Indian TV market instead (an 8:30 pm audience in Mumbai). It also didn't help that the cheapest weekend doubleheader ticket cost CAD 50, while the least expensive ticket for a Toronto Blue Jays baseball game against the visiting New York Yankees that same weekend was CAD 34.
Organisers also strangely tried to spin the lack of fans turning up as a positive, saying the players enjoyed the privacy of Canada compared to their home markets. The saving grace was the final, which was close to a sellout with about 6500 people in attendance, totals that matched the entire tournament attendance up to that point. But if there is no meaningful attempt to cultivate local interest, and Indian TV eyeballs are paramount to the success or failure of the business operation instead, staging a league in Madagascar instead of Ontario achieves the same purpose.