COZIER ON CRICKET: CPL raises regional bar
THE exquisite assortment of bouncy cheerleaders have gyrated for the last time. The fire-eaters have returned to a less dangerous diet. The steel pans and tassa drums have gone silent for the time being.
The last Limacol Super Six has been struck, the last El Dorado Classic Catch grasped. The flashing zing-bails have gone back into their box until next time.
The players – Australians, Bangladeshis, New Zealanders, Pakistanis, South Africans, Sri Lankans, in addition to the majority West Indians – have dispersed to their widely scattered points on the map.
The inaugural Limacol Caribbean Premier League was set to reach a fitting climax under the floodlights at the Queen’s Park Oval last night with palpably the two strongest teams contesting the final for the US$250 000 champions’ cheque.
For the past five weeks, it has blended the two foremost cultural characteristics of these one-time British colonies, cricket and carnival, into the liveliest, and longest, collective fete the region has known.
For each of 21 nights – and three days – it has played to packed stadiums in six different locations. No current superstar – rock, reggae, soca, whatever – would be able to match that.
Cricket’s shortest, fastest, most popular version, Twenty20, lent itself perfectly to the mix in a way Tests, the established, unadulterated form, and even Fifty50, the other limited-overs adaptation, can’t.
The franchise concept, long since in place in other such tournaments in India and Australia, led to creative team names and the revolutionary cross-fertilization of players.
Last night’s finalists were the Guyana Amazon Warriors and the Jamaica Tallawahs; the Antigua Hawksbills and the St Lucia Zouks were those eliminated in the qualifying round. Trinidadians were turned into Bajans, Bajans into Trinidadians, Jamaicans into Guyanese, St Lucians into Antiguans. Intertwined with them were several overseas pros.
Some prominent people found such conversions so bewildering they openly protested. The fans had no problem with it.
If anything, they now want more of it.
As it needed to be, it was organized, administered and financed by prosperous private enterprise that purchased the rights from the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) which simply never had the wherewithal, economic or otherwise, to manage such a venture.
The many legends of the game who were involved left us wondering why they had not been long since in the same capacities in West Indies cricket. Curtly Ambrose’s animated firing up of his Amazon Warriors charges prior to Thursday’s nights semi made for instructive viewing.
In one way or another, Ambrose and the others sung from the same hymn sheet of praise – and they don’t come more legendary than Sir Garry Sobers (a CPL ambassador), Sir Viv Richards (coach of the Antigua Hawksbills) and Ricky Ponting (a Hawksbill who chose to make the occasion the last professional appearance of his glittering career).
As sweet as it was to Digicel, the CPL owners, and the host of sponsors eager to be associated with the brand, such acclaim was redundant. The real endorsement came from the thousands who turned out everywhere.
My own grasp of the CPL’s impact came during a hair trim at a salon in St Lucia; in between their perms and shampoos, women spoke, and argued, knowingly about the demise of the Zouks. I can’t think of anywhere else in the world where that would happen.
So the CPL is here to stay. Its CEO, Damien O’Donohue, an Irishman versed in managing such events, said its initial success put it three years ahead of where he had envisaged when the first ball was bowled at Kensington Oval on July 30.
He spoke of seeking out other franchises in North America, in cities like Toronto and Miami with their large populations of West Indians, Indians and Pakistanis.
Ironically, therein lies one of the challenges the CPL has created – how to comply with the already crowded schedule of Tests and One-Day Internationals (ODIs) on the International Cricket Council (ICC) Future Tours Programme.
The problem has been evident already. The window created by the WICB for the Indian Premier League (IPL) so that its players don’t miss the chance of contracts in cricket’s richest tournament wasn’t quite long enough earlier this year to prevent a clash between the closing stages of the IPL and the start of an ICC stipulated tour to the Caribbean by Sri Lanka of two Tests, three ODIs and two Twenty20s.
The solution was to replace the itinerary with a tri-nation ODI contest, adding India.
To accommodate the CPL, the subsequent two Tests against Pakistan were jettisoned, leaving five ODIs and two Twenty20s.
Six weeks for the IPL window and another five or six for the guaranteed continuation of the CPL adds up to three months of franchise Twenty20s with no room for Tests which the ICC repeatedly refers to as the pinnacle of the game.
Given the money that the two leagues (along with Australia’s Big Bash) earn for players and, in the case of the CPL, pumps into the WICB as well as into the economies of our small island states, it is a reality that is not going to change.
It demands the ICC’s urgent attention if Test cricket is, indeed, going to remain what the organization says it is.
There were other clear examples from the CPL experience to which the WICB must pay heed. The most obvious were how to properly promote the tournaments it retains, the four-day and the one-day, 50-overs, and the standard of the pitches that directly determine the standard of the cricket.
O’Donohue acknowledged that the CPL’s final preparation was rushed to meet the start date. Yet, through its skilled marketing, it attracted close to 20 sponsors overall. For five years, the WICB’s premier competitions have gone without any.
President Dave Cameron made the point that promotion entailed costs that the WICB, unlike the CPL with its vast resources, simply couldn’t meet.
The fact is that not only has there been no promotion – for instance, of last season’s four-day final between the two oldest and fiercest cricketing rivals, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago – but the fans were basically advised their presence wasn’t required.
Just one of the stands at Kensington Oval was opened for the match, a message that said “we don’t expect the fans to turn out in numbers and, those that do, must fit where we put them”. It is a scenario widely repeated.
Ponting noted the sub-standard pitches that led to low scoring matches and flattering bowling figures in the CPL, mainly at Kensington Oval and Sabina Park, Jamaica.
It is a predicament constantly raised in this column and by several other observers.
On that and several other fronts, the WICB can no longer afford to be satisfied with the status quo. The Limacol CPL has set it high standards.
• Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and broadcaster in the Caribbean.