Proudly boasts of being “the biggest party in sport”- and it may well have a case for that claim.
by Andrew Gioannetti
It’s proudly self-described as “the biggest party in sport” and the Hero Caribbean Premier League (CPL) T20 may well have a case for that claim.
The five-week-long annual cricket fest bowled off on August 8 when defending champions Trinbago Knight Riders took on a new-look St Lucia Stars in front of a sold out Queen’s Park Oval, Port-of-Spain; not just to the exhilaration of the cricket-crazy West Indians but also to the league’s evergrowing foreign fan-base.
Now in its sixth edition, the CPL continues to capitalise on both an ever-increasing global demand for explosive, fast-paced cricket, as well as the Caribbean’s reputation for throwing a proper jamboree.
Since the CPL was inaugurated in 2013, its entertainment value has grown noticeably with each passing year and it is down to a few simple and tangible factors: an increase in the number and quality of sponsors for the league itself, as well as the individual franchises; the continued attraction of several high-profile franchise owners and investors in the league; and, of course, the growing involvement of some of the very best players in world T20 cricket.
For instance, in 2015, Red Chillies Entertainment, co-owned by Bollywood megastar Shahrukh Khan and his wife Gauri Khan, along with Indian company Mehta Group, purchased stake in the T&T Red Steel before renaming it Trinbago Knight Riders. The Knight Riders franchise went on to win the title that same year before claiming a second last year. As the popularity of the franchises continues to expand within the region, so does the global audience. In 2017, the CPL recorded a combined broadcast and digital viewership of almost 200 million. Ironically, India accounted for nearly half the total viewership, despite the country’s governing body for cricket preventing its players from participating in foreign leagues.
The CPL also continues to gain popularity in the UK with each passing year, but more surprisingly, it’s picked up pace in the US where there was an increase in viewership by over 100 percent in 2017 compared to the previous year.
But cricket-crazy India is where the CPL benefits from the most. India’s enormous fan base practically paved the way for Hero Motocorp, south Asia’s largest manufacturer of motorcycles and scooters, to take notice of the opportunity and replace Limacol as title sponsor in 2015. This year, the league boasted that it filled its quota of 18 sponsors.
The CPL made its debut in 2013 as a replacement for the defunct Caribbean Twenty20, which unlike the current tournament, was comprised of official national teams. The short-lived Caribbean Twenty20 started in 2010 with T&T winning three out of four titles. In contrast, the CPL is made up of franchises which have no official connection to the country they are based in. The franchises are made up of 15 contracted players. They consist of a maximum five international players and at least four players under the age of 23. New Zealand alone is represented by eight players. Also of note, each franchise includes at least one T&T and one Jamaican national.
When the CPL started in 2013, there were six franchises: T&T Red Steel, Barbados Tridents, Jamaica Tallawahs, Guyana Amazon Warriors, St Lucia Stars and the now-dormant Antigua Hawksbills. The Hawksbills pulled out indefinitely ahead of the 2015 tournament and was replaced in the two successive tournaments by St Kitts & Nevis Patriots, which were formed that same year. The reigning champions, Knight Riders, and winners of the inaugural tournament, Tallawahs, have captured two CPL titles. Tridents are the only other winner.
Every franchise has its own venue, except the T&T-based franchise, which has two: the Queen’s Park Oval and the Brian Lara Cricket Academy, in Tarouba. The latter will host the final for the second straight year on September 16.
For the past two years, a venue outside of the participating franchise bases was added — Central Broward Regional Park, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida — the only cricket stadium in the US with ICC International Cricket Status. The other venues are Sabina Park, Jamaica; Darren Sammy Cricket Ground, St Lucia; Warner Park Sporting Complex, St Kitts; and Kensington Oval, Barbados. These iconic grounds are once again expected to witness the very best of 20-overs cricket, especially given the fact that each team includes at least one player that is ranked within the top 20 batsmen, bowlers and all-rounders in T20 cricket by the ICC.
Most international players have retained their places for this year’s competition, while there have been a number of quality debutants. Knight Riders, Tallawahs and Tridents, all made reinforcements, while the three franchises without a CPL title, Amazon Warriors, Stars and Patriots have also made changes with varying degrees in an attempt to challenge for the crown.