The attendance in the county games fell by 17% in the five years to 2001. In early 2002, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) undertook a market research project. The objective was to understand public opinion about the sport. The results noted that some respondents thought that cricket is a posh sport. And we ask, why is it surprising?
For more than a century, cricket took it as a matter of pride to maintain its reputation as a gentlemen’s game. Played in whites with shirts tucked in and a break for meals throughout the day. Not to mention going off for bad light that continues to haunt the game in the age of floodlights. Questioning the umpire was a sin and even verbal contact with the opponent maligned a player’s reputation. The audience added their two cents to cricket’s image by politely applauding milestones, even when it was that of an opposition player.
Even before the advent of the limited-overs format, the atmosphere during cricket matches held in the West Indies was different. Belonging to a bunch of fun-loving island nations, the people of the Caribbean never shy away from turning any occasion into a celebration. During a cricket match there, people dancing in the stands on drum beats and pipe-organs while enjoying their drinks was a familiar sight.
The inherent personality of their countrymen is reflected in the cricketers from the West Indies. Larger than life characters, players that go as far back as Gary Sobers and Vivian Richards are famous for playing an attacking brand of cricket.
After India embraced the T20 format that resulted in the launch of the Indian Premier League in 2008, cricket took a decisive turn. The cricket on offer was fast-forward and to go with it was the razzmatazz of a carnival. No wonder that the cricketers from the Caribbean took to it like fish to water. It was only a matter of time before the people of the West Indies got their own version of the carnival, in the form of the Caribbean Premier League launched in 2013.
What makes the CPL stand out?
Owing to the support of more than a billion people, the kind of money on offer and a separate window, the IPL is leaps and bounds ahead of any domestic T20 tournament in the world. But, who follows next?
The most successful cricketing nation has the Big Bash League. The founders of the game have the T20 blast. Other subcontinent nations have their own versions of a franchise-based T20 tournament. But, while competing with these tournaments, the CPL rests above in terms of the quality of cricket on offer.
In a discussion on ‘The Pitch Side Experts’ podcast, Freddie Wilde, the co-author of ‘Cricket 2.0’, highlighted a few reasons for this. First is the depth of local talent on offer. With a penchant for hitting boundaries, the cricketers from the Caribbean took a sudden liking to the shortest form of the game. Then came the mystery spinners and gun fielders to complete a cohesive unit who are the only team to lift the T20 World Cup twice. There has been an assembly line of good T20 players in the West Indies. That puts it ahead of the tournaments like the Bangladesh Premier League that relies on foreign talent for quality.
The second reason is that the CPL enjoys a separate window that does not overlap with their international season or any other tournament apart from the T20 Blast in England. This makes the best players from the islands available. This is unlike the BBL that coincides with Australia’s international season. Hence, a player like David Warner has played only three BBL games, the last of which was in 2013. Being a franchise-based tournament with private ownership, the CPL is more attractive for a foreign player than the T20 Blast where the cricket board owns the teams.
Third, and the most important reason for CPL’s success is it being a six-team tournament. This makes it far more competitive than the T20 Blast that has 18 teams. With four foreign players allowed in a side, the 43rd best player in the country will struggle to find a place in a CPL side. Whereas, in the T20 Blast, the 164th best player in the country will get a chance as only two foreign players can be a part of the XI.
The same is true with the BBL which is an eight-team tournament that allows two foreign players per side. The 72nd best player in Australia will be part of the XI when all the domestic talent is available. Since 15 or so of the best players in the country are busy on national duty, it dilutes the competition in the BBL further.
One can argue that even Pakistan Super League is a six-team tournament with an abundance of local talent. But, a deeper look into the country’s talent pool will highlight the abundance of good bowlers in Pakistan but a struggle for good T20 batsmen. If only there was an option to buy foreign hitters for the international side as well.
The IPL Connection
Red Chillies Entertainment, the parent body of the IPL side Kolkata Knight Riders took over the ownership of Trinbago Knight Riders (then Red Steel) in 2015. Since then, they have won four of the six seasons. In 2020, it was the turn of the Punjab Kings to make a similar investment s they bought St Lucia Zouks who finished as the runners-up in that season. This season they have even rebranded the side to St Lucia Kings.
This year, it was the turn of Rajasthan Royals to move the IPL-CPL connection forward. Barbados Tridents hence became Barbados Royals. As Venky Mysore of the KKR franchise puts it, this will help develop the brand and the fanbase. The acquisition of a franchise, as Mysore points out, in a different hemisphere unequivocally expands the fan base of a team and the franchise brand also gets a lift, increasing the overall valuation of the team.
A new experiment this year
Up till now, the Big Bash League was the epitome of experimenting with new technologies and exciting rules. The ECB went overboard to compete and introduced a new format altogether. But the CPL this year will be a breeding ground for a step taken to understand the game like never before. This will be through the usage of what is called, a smart ball
Now, what is a smart ball? It looks, feels, weighs and plays exactly the same way as a regular kookaburra ball but has an embedded electronic chip. That registers many more data points than usual ball-tracking technology. It will be used to collect information such as speed, spin, power in real-time which can be viewed on a smartwatch, mobile or tablet or computer/laptop via a specially designed app.
The chip can currently measure the speed and revolutions of the ball at different stages of its journey, from the hand of a bowler to the wicket-keeper, fielder or the boundary line. It will provide an idea of the exact degree of bounce, swing, drift and dip which will help coaches guide the players better.
Even though the last season turned out to be a low-key affair largely due to pitches not producing watchable scenarios, the CPL has all the ingredients to rest above most other T20 leagues in the near future.