Take twenty: cricket, that is

Garry Steckles previews the 2014 Caribbean Premier League Twenty20 cricket tournament, which starts sports lovers’ pulses racing in July

Kensington Oval, Barbados. Photograph © Argalis/stock.com

Twenty20 cricket, which has been around for only eleven years, has already established itself as the most popular form of the venerable game — with the public, if not with the purists. And the Caribbean Premier League, in only its second year, is sending a message to established T20 tournaments around the world: there’s a new kid on the block, and he’s going to be gunning for them with a slogan that says it all: The Biggest Party in Sport.

It’s a challenge established T20 giants — such as the scandal-dogged Indian Premier League, Australia’s Big Bash League, England’s Natwest T20 Blast, and South Africa’s Ram Slam T20 Challenge — should take seriously, because this new kid has a not-so-secret weapon to go along with a star-studded player roster. That weapon: the party-loving people of the Caribbean and their well-deserved reputation for uninhibited bacchanal.

Pete Russell, the CPL’s chief operating officer, puts it this way, when asked if he could envisage the fledgling league becoming the biggest T20 event in the world: “We really do. We are determined to have the best-run league in the world which is all about serious cricket. We will attract the best players in the world,” Russell adds, “and with a carnival atmosphere that comes with every game, the CPL will be the envy of the cricketing world.

“Our view is that the Caribbean people know how to party better than anyone else, so why not let them take the lead? We will leave it up to the crowds to bring the party, and there will be no restrictions.”

The six-team CPL launched last year to sell-out crowds, with more than 250,000 spectators attending matches in Antigua, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad, and St Lucia, and a global television audience of an estimated thirty-six million. In 2014, there’s an intriguing development in the choice of venues: nine of the thirty matches scheduled from 11 July to 16 August, including the semi-finals and final, will be played in the beautiful and newly refurbished Warner Park stadium in Basseterre, capital of the Eastern Caribbean island of St Kitts, which doesn’t have a team in the tournament.

Russell explains the innovative venue choice this way: “The tournament is not only for the six franchise islands — it is for the region. We wanted to make sure that we could take the ‘party’ further afield, and selecting St Kitts is testament to the large-scale investment and ambition the government has in making the island a premier cricketing and sporting destination. We have been very impressed.”

As for players, the 2014 edition of the CPL will feature the fastest century-maker in any format of first-class cricket, the fastest century-maker in international T20 cricket, the most prolific wicket-taker in Test match history, and one of the deadliest bowlers in the T20 game.

Team by team, these are just some of the A-list names who’ll be attracting the crowds and the international television audience at this year’s CPL:

Antigua Hawksbills

Jamaican Marlon Samuels, one of T20’s most accomplished all-rounders, will captain a powerful squad whose stars include the hard-hitting Aussie T20 specialist David Hussey, exciting Sri Lanka all-rounder Thisara Perera, who hit the winning runs against India in the World Twenty20 final in Pakistan in April, and Pakistan’s veteran spin maestro Saeed Ajmal.

Barbados Tridents

One of the world’s most powerful batsmen, Trinidadian Kieron Pollard, leads a vastly accomplished squad. Among the Tridents’ big names are the veteran Pakistani all-rounder Shoaib Malik, Bangladesh’s most successful — and often controversial — all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan, and the veteran South African batsman Neil McKenzie, whose stats include the all-time Test opening partnership stand of 415, with then captain Graeme Smith, in 2008. Trinidad pace bowler Ravi Rampaul will spearhead the attack.

Guyana Amazon Warriors

Trinidad’s Sunil Narine, the youngest captain in this year’s CPL, is known as one of the most deadly bowlers in T20 cricket, with a track record that includes being named Player of the Tournament in the 2012 Indian Premier League, and being either first or second in the International Cricket Council T20 bowler rankings for the first half of this year. The squad he leads includes New Zealand’s swashbuckling Corey Anderson, the fastest century-maker in international T20 cricket (in thirty-six balls against the West Indies on 1 January this year) and his fellow Kiwi Martin Guptill, another punishing top-order batsman.

Jamaica Tallawahs

Chris Gayle and Muttiah Muralitharan are arguably the two biggest names of the 2014 CPL — and they’re both playing for the tournament’s 2013 inaugural champions. Tallawahs’ Jamaican captain Gayle is one of only four batsmen to have hit two triple centuries in Test matches. On top of which, he’s simply devastating in the T20 version of the game, in which his thirty-ball century for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League in 2012 is the fastest ton in any format of cricket, and from which he went on to the highest individual T20 score: 175. Muralitharan, the charismatic Sri Lankan off-spinner, is the highest wicket-taker in Test cricket history, a bowling genius with a flair for the dramatic. Rated the greatest Test bowler ever by Wisden, the cricket “Bible,” he ended his Test career by claiming his 800th wicket with the final ball of his last Test. Other outstanding players in the Tallawahs’ 2014 CPL squad include Jamaican all-rounder Andre Russell and Pakistani opening batsman Ahmad Shehzad.

St Lucia Zouks

They finished last in last year’s inaugural CPL — which gave the Zouks the opportunity at the league player draft to snap up one of the biggest names in this year’s tournament, Kevin Pietersen. The swashbuckling batsman, consigned to the international wilderness by England, remains one of the game’s most charismatic players, and his inclusion in the Zouks’ squad will be a guaranteed morale-booster. As will the inspiring presence of the Zouks’ St Lucian skipper Darren Sammy, a lethal middle-order batsman and more than useful fast-medium bowler who captained the West Indies from 2010, and who led them to victory in the 2012 World Twenty20 tournament in Sri Lanka, where they beat the hosts in the final.

Trinidad and Tobago Red Steel

They may not have the biggest of the big names in this year’s CPL, but the T&T squad doesn’t lack international experience and solid T20 creds. Red Steel’s international franchise player Ross Taylor is a New Zealander who bats with flair and precision and has an outstanding T20 record, while skipper Dwayne Bravo and his younger half-brother Darren are Trinis with fine Test and limited-over CVs. The spin-bowling attack will be spearheaded by Trini Samuel Badree and Barbadian Sulieman Benn.