Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent @PeterDellaPenna
The 2021 Caribbean Premier League will be hosted entirely at Warner Park in St. Kitts, beginning on August 28. The 33-match tournament will allow fans to attend at up to 50% capacity of the 8,000-seat venue - as long as they show proof of vaccination to enter the stadium facility. However, CPL chief executive Pete Russell said that not all players would be required to be vaccinated in order to take part, in light of varying vaccine access to overseas players in particular.
"We're aware that we need to get people vaccinated where possible," Russell said during a press conference on Tuesday. "That's not always going to be the case but that is a process that we're undergoing right now whether it's [those] working for the CPL or playing [who] will be vaccinated. But it's not a requirement that they'll be vaccinated because there will be quarantine options as well.
"We were the first to lead back last year, so I think we led the way in terms of the protocols that we put in place that obviously have now become part of most events. We were the first large-scale cricket tournament back and that went very successfully. You've seen that others have had their problems so the planning and detail that needs to go into making these things happen is so important. I think to have the first fully vaccinated tournament is again just showing the world the way forward and I'm sure that this will encourage people, certainly in the federation, to get their vaccines so that they can come and watch some great cricket."
Compared to 2020, when the CPL was split between two stadium venues in Trinidad, Russell said he has confidence that the turf square at Warner Park will be able to handle the stress of 33 matches without compromising the condition and quality of pitches. Russell said the situation is viable thanks to six training grounds around the island of St Kitts which, he said, will be made available to each of the franchises rather than having any training sessions conducted at Warner Park.
"As any agronomist will know, to play 33 games in one venue is going to be challenging," Russell said. "But what we are blessed with in St. Kitts is that there are six grounds around the island all of which can host the training. So we will be making use of the training facilities which are away from Warner Park. Effectively, Warner Park will just host the games. Actually, one of the largest wear and tears of any ground is when there are practice sessions on the outfield before the games.
"We're totally aware of the challenges. We're blessed again that the soil in the wicket in St Kitts is some of the best in the region. So we're very comfortable that we'll be able to prepare some incredibly good decks for the players as we always have done. We use a pitch consultant based out of New Zealand. He deals with Eden Park and has also dealt with a number of US grounds as well and has worked for the ICC. He'll be coming into St. Kitts probably 10 weeks before the tournament to assist and make sure everything from grass growth through to preparation is on track. They've worked very closely with the grounds people in St. Kitts before and are very comfortable and confident that we'll be preparing some great wickets.
"The main concern is to make sure the wickets themselves stand the test of time. We know exactly the process. We have a block of five wickets to work with and we've got to make sure that obviously they are kept refreshed so we can play some great cricket on them. This has been part of the process and looking at it with one of the considerations is, 'Can you play all 33 games with the standard of cricketers that we have at one ground?' The answer has been: yes, we can."
Russell also said that squads will be allowed to increase their personnel from 17 players to allow an 18th member for this season in order to accommodate any injuries or late withdrawals during the tournament in consideration of a strict bio-bubble that will be in place from the start of the event for all players, coaches, staff, and tournament officials. The 2021 CPL Draft is expected to take place in the final week of May, though an exact date is yet to be finalised.
The CPL was the first of the major franchise T20 tournament to resume operations since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, playing the entire 2020 event in Trinidad split between two venues at Queen's Park Oval and Brian Lara Academy Stadium. However, the event was played entirely in a bio-bubble without any fan attendance. Recent internationals hosted by Cricket West Indies in Antigua have also been played without fans, but the CPL is pressing forward by encouraging fans to return to Warner Park with support from the St Kitts government.
"We are greatly confident that the hosting of the Caribbean Premier League in St. Kitts & Nevis in 2021 will stimulate much-needed economic activity, especially for small and medium-sized local businesses," said Jonel Powell, St. Kitts & Nevis minister for Education, Youth, Sports and Culture. "As it relates to Covid-19, we will maintain our vigilance to ensure that our health protocols are not compromised and that the country remains protected from any serious spread of the coronavirus. It will most certainly help to revive the tourism sector that has been struggling for over a year, under the weight of the deadly Covid-19 global pandemic."