Making Caribbean Cricket great again

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A report by Rob Johnston for CricBuzz

The sixth edition of the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) begins in Trinidad on Wednesday with the league’s chief, Pete Russell, bullish about the tournament’s strength in the face of an uncertain future for global T20 competitions.

Given the proliferation of such tournaments, and with South Africa and England hoping to add to the likes of the CPL, India’s IPL and Australia’s Big Bash, the ICC are currently looking at various measures designed to ensure the continued primacy of international cricket. These include limiting the number of T20 competitions a player can play in a calendar year to three and having discreet blocks of time, outside of which the tournaments can’t be played.

For all the world’s T20 tournaments, including the CPL, that poses a significant danger but Pete Russel believes his tournament can cope with any restriction on the number of tournaments a player can play. “The pool is big enough and deep enough,” he tells Cricbuzz. “What you don’t want of course is to have is a situation where players or agents start to trade off different leagues.

“You could have scenarios where a player says they will come to you but you’ve got to pay me 50% more than you paid me last time otherwise I’m going to go elsewhere. You could create a false market which is in nobody’s interest. But we’ve built a very strong brand already and we think if someone had the choice of three tournaments, we believe we’d be one of them.”

The ECB’s new eight-team franchise tournament, set to be played over 100-balls, could also threaten the CPL’s potential player pool as it is set to be played at a similar time as the Caribbean competition. Russell has already had discussions with his ECB counterparts and, although stressing that more dialogue is needed, believes a situation can be worked out.

“If you’ve got the whole of the summer window, you’ve got to believe there’s a way of avoiding a clash,” he says. “I don’t think it will be perfect because I think there will be a crossover but there is a way of us working closely together so that when they come to the critical part of their tournament, they are able to get the best players and similarly for us as well.”

For now, Russell is looking forward to the sixth season of the CPL. Preparations for the tournament have gone well with 18 commercial sponsors in place – a “fantastic” result – and a first deal with Sky to broadcast the CPL in the UK. An Indian television tie-up is also expected to be sealed before the tournament begins and a tweak to the schedule is being trialled too as Russell and his staff continually look for improvements.

“The key one is about getting momentum into the tournament,” he says. “We want to start off with a big bang, get everyone’s juices flowing from ball one. Last year, we launched in quieter markets so this year we are launching in our two strongest, Trinidad and Guyana, where we are pretty much guaranteed a full house. That will give the tournament a real boost and that momentum will then flow through some of the other islands in the Caribbean. We hope to get a fast start.”

There should be some decent cricket on show as the Trinibago Knight Riders attempt to defend their crown and the six squads are arguably the strongest the competition has yet had. There were 50% more players enter this year’s draft and Russell reports agents now chasing the CPL to include their players rather than the other way round as it was when they started. Australian duo Steve Smith and David Warner will also be taking part following their international bans, imposed by Cricket Australia, for ball tampering earlier this year.

“We had a long discussion with Cricket West Indies,” Russell says of the decision to allow the pair to play. “They said we will follow what the ICC say and the ICC said they aren’t banned from international leagues. We took our lead from the guys at Cricket Canada. As soon as they were allowed to play there, it was clear that CWI wouldn’t have a problem. The opportunity arose and we are delighted they are here.”

The recent Global T20 tournament in Canada, in which Smith and Warner both participated, is yet another T20 competition to add into the mix and is set to compete with the CPL for the North American market.

During this CPL, three matches will be held in Florida, USA, although these will be cooler evening games after last year’s day fixtures saw disappointing attendances in 100-degree heat. Despite reducing the matches there from four last season, Russell confirms the CPL is still “very much committed” to their American project but admits to concerns about the Canadian tournament.

“It worries us, not because of the tournament that it is because I don’t think it was a particularly well-run tournament,” he says. “Playing all the games at the same ground, an hour out of Toronto, didn’t make a huge amount of sense but they will learn like any tournament operators. The biggest concern for us is that they were allowed to do it in the first place.

“That isn’t a Canadian league. It’s a bunch of international players turning up to represent spurious home teams. It’s not about development which is what those leagues should be about. What I think those leagues can’t be is an opportunity to commercialise what ultimately is a global league. It doesn’t make any sense to us. The job we are doing in the Caribbean is about developing young players, that’s part of our remit, our sanction agreement.”

The CPL organisers have spoken to all the franchise owners about their responsibilities after delays in the paying of Barbados Trident players, first revealed by Cricbuzz, last year. Russell is confident there will be no repeat this season and the CPL is also working with the ICC and the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations (FICA) to develop common standards in this area following a number of similar instances in other T20 leagues.

Whatever the self-styled ‘biggest party in sport’ delivers on the pitch, the privately-owned tournament has to make a profit at some point, something it has so far failed to do despite upwards of $20 million worth of investment. Logistically, with seven different countries involved, it is an expensive tournament to run but if it continues to attract increased sponsorship and greater broadcast and digital viewership – 197 million people watched last year across various channels – a move into the black shouldn’t be far away.

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