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 a 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 were that of an opposition player.
Even before the advent of limited overs game, 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 an 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 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 standout?
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 the 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 country will be 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 two sides of the CPL
It is no doubt that Chris Gayle is the Bradman of T20 cricket. It is a shame that in the twilight of his career, he will not be a part of this edition of the CPL. His approach to batting is: hits sixes at will but does not enjoy running.
Hitting sixes at will is true for the approach of most Caribbean batsmen. It is not a surprise then that the CPL enjoys the highest six per innings ratio among the big-five T20 tournaments in the world. The surprising aspect is that even with all this six hitting, the average run-rate in the CPL is lower than all the tournaments.
As the pitches in the West Indies have become slower, the spinners have been more dominant than even in the sub-continent leagues. With an economy of 6.9 and a bowling average of 25.7 runs per wickets, the spinners have been more successful in the CPL than any other league.
Due to the pandemic, only two venues in Trinidad and Tobago will host the tournament this year. That leaves more room for the pitches to slow down as the tournament progresses. This will bring the spinners into play even more.
As the matches will take place behind closed doors, there will also be no partying or a carnival-like atmosphere in the stands. But, for the people of the Caribbean and the lovers of West Indies cricket, the break it will offer from the gloom of a last few months will be a delight. Even the party will move to behind closed doors.