Don’t stop the cricket: Caribbean Premier League T20 2017 | The Game

As the 2017 Caribbean Premier League T20 cricket tournament opens, Garry Steckles reports on some interesting moves by star players

Jamaican Marlon Samuels joins the St Lucia Stars for CPL 2017. Photo by Mark Nolan IDI/IDI via Getty Images

Six highly competitive teams, non-stop bacchanal, and some of the biggest names in world cricket are heading our way again, as the Caribbean poises to host the fifth edition of “the biggest party in sport.” The occasion, of course, is the annual campaign of the Hero Caribbean Premier League, one of the venerable game’s most eagerly anticipated Twenty20 tournaments, and one of the most positive and popular additions to the region’s sporting calendar in recent decades.

And as usual we can expect the unexpected from the CPL, with a number of its star players making surprise moves to rival teams, and two new names on the rosters from a part of the world not widely associated with top-class league cricket — Afghanistan. This year’s CPL will be launched later than usual, too, with the thirty-four-match tournament starting on 4 August in St Lucia and the final scheduled for 9 September.

There’ll be the usual blend of day and night games, and the St Lucia opener will lead into two double-headers in Central Broward Stadium in Lauderhill, Florida, on the weekend of 5 and 6 August, as the CPL continues its quest to sell its unique brand of party-hearty cricket to an American audience.

Looking ahead to the 2017 campaign, CPL CEO Damien O’Donohoe says, “Last year was the tournament’s biggest, with a global TV and online audience of almost 150 million and in the region of 250,000 fans attending our games. We are determined to enhance the fan participation across each venue, ensuring an even better experience for the many thousands of fans who will descend on each of our seven host countries.” He adds: “Once more, we have the best talent in world cricket across our six teams, and there have been a lot of eye-catching transfers.”

There have indeed, and none of the big-name player shuffles has made bigger headlines than the move of Chris Gayle, who holds just about every batting record in Twenty20 cricket, to the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots. Gayle, the biggest single box-office attraction in cricket, led his home island’s Jamaica Tallawahs in the first four CPL campaigns, winning the championship title in two of them.

Another eye-catcher is the acquisition of last year’s ICC World T20 batting hero Marlon Samuels by the St Lucia Stars, while the Tallawahs moved to fill the gap left by Gayle’s departure with the signing of prolific Windies opening batsman Lendl Simmonds and the retention of the Sri Lankan legend Kumar Sangakkara.

For the first time ever, there will be an Afghanistan presence in the Hero CPL: all-rounder Mohammad Nabi was snapped up by the Patriots at the player draft, while googly specialist Rashid Khan was signed up by the Guyana Amazon Warriors. In addition to the high-profile acquisition of New Zealand batsman Kane Williamson, coupled with the return of Dwayne Smith from the Amazon Warriors, the Barbados Tridents have retained Pakistan’s Shaoib Malik and South African all-rounder Wayne Parnell as they bid to regain the title they won in 2014.

The Amazon Warriors have been one of the most consistent sides since the tournament’s inception in 2013, and that is reflected in the retention of a number of stalwarts, including New Zealand opener Martin Guptill, in-form Australian batsman Chris Lynn, and Pakistan’s always dangerous paceman Sohail Tanvir.

In addition to the big-hitting Gayle, the ambitious Patriots’ string of Caribbean talent includes leg-spinner Samuel Badree, batsmen Jonathan Carter and Kieran Powell, and promising fast bowler Alzarri Joseph, for what will be the 2016 World T20-winning coach Phil Simmons’s first season in charge of the team.

The St Lucia Stars will once again be led by the charismatic Darren Sammy and they will welcome back South African batsman David Miller and Australian all-rounder Shane Watson. Recently re-named and under new ownership, the Stars will also feature Sri Lanka’s great Lasith Malinga, the speed ace with the round-arm “slingshot” action.

The 2015 champions Trinbago Knight Riders have opted to retain all but three of last year’s squad, and will once more be led by Dwayne Bravo. The Knight Riders will look to the guile of Sunil Narine, while Darren Bravo will be part of a batting line-up that includes big-hitting New Zealanders Brendon McCullum and Colin Munro and South Africa’s run machine Hashim Amla.