The significance of West Indies cricket to the Caribbean populace is quite hard to put into words. Think about it for a moment: fans in other nations get to love all their sports teams, and can build up their national ego in various ways - heroes, achievements, historical events - without having to rely on their cricket team alone as a binding factor.
On the other hand, the West Indian region has cricket as the be all and end all. Our best runners sprint for Jamaica, not the West Indies; our great rhythms are labeled Trinidadian, not West Indian; even our scholars generally have national links as opposed to regional ones. Our 'Maroon Warriors' are the single golden thread that runs through us all.
In that light, therefore, competitive regional cricket in the West Indies has always been unique because it would pit individual nations against each other with an eye to greater regional prospects. It's where Guyanese could play against Bajans for national cricketing pride. Playing for the West Indies was the great prize, but getting to have your country's flag flutter in a cricket stadium was an honor of its own. Like all things, though, time has brought change.
For the first time in the history of West Indies cricket, foreigners are entering the regional scene in a meaningful way. While there have been occasional representative teams that have played in a domestic tourney here or there (such as England's A team, Kenya, the USA and Canada in the past 10-15 years), never have any of our domestic teams had non-nationals representing their cause. The commencement of the 2013 Caribbean Premier League is the dawn of a new era.
In a sense, the region has lagged behind. The county has had foreigners involved for decades, and the upsurge in T20 tournaments has seen previously homogenized locales become laden with talent from far and wide. The Delhiite Virat Kohli captains the Jamiacan Chris Gayle, South African AB de Villiers, New Zealander Daniel Vettori and Sri Lankans Tillakaratne Dilshan and Muttiah Muralitharan in the name of the city of Bengaluru - the cricket world is as shaken and stirred as possible. The West Indies now enters the mixer, but are we, the fans, ready for this?
The rivalries that brew in inter-regional matches run deep. An earlier piece I penned for this section speaks to this deep chasm. All of a sudden, the heroes that have been deified through a nationalist lens have become the enemies. Now, as a Guyanese, I am supposed to support a team of 'Amazon Warriors' featuring the Trinidadian spinner Sunil Narine when they face a Bajan team that features the best current Guyanese spinner, Devendra Bishoo. I'm required to bellow in my most passionate Guyanese lingo for a player like New Zealand's red-headed Martin Guptill to 'lash de ball', and for another, Pakistan's Mohammed Hafeez, to 'share licks' for other teams. It's all new and strange to this part of the world.
Over time, I have no doubt that the entire CPL phenomenon will catch on. And over time, life pre-CPL will be hard to fathom. Like the IPL before it, this pan-Caribbean tournament will be focused on a strong cricketing product embellished with multi-faceted entertainment. It's going to be a carnival, and thousands will flock to it. Moreover, regional rivalries will continue to run deep at the 50-over and four-day levels. For T20s in the West Indies, though, the time is now, and the place is here. Buckle up ladies and gents - the World has arrived and is set to join in the Caribbean 'swag'.
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