The 2014 Caribbean Premier League (CPL) was not as extravagant as last year’s inaugural edition. Costs were cut. There were fewer fireworks and scantily clad cheerleaders; and less of a lot of things our ears and eyes previously enjoyed. But at day’s end, the quality of cricket was arguably slightly better in terms of more runs, a higher volume of sixes, a boatload of jaw-dropping catches and of course, long-awaited centuries to sate hungry fans.
As the cricket began prominently spreading its wings among the smaller islands, one avenue which definitely trumped 2013…was the drama factor. Barbados Tridents would be the team that these theatrics found magnetic and as they lifted their crown, no one could dispute their all-round display, which ranged from sterling to entertaining to riveting, which climaxed with a Bajan-styled bashment.
The region’s Twenty20 (T20) juggernauts had to come home; some did…toting a bit of baggage. Darren Sammy retired from Test cricket (with Denesh Ramdin taking over the leader’s mantle) and subsequently began what could well evolve into a full-time and prosperous T20 career. Glamorgan was his first stop before jetting back home, alongside the Indian Premier League (IPL) golden-boy, Sunil Narine, hot on the heels of being dropped from the West Indies Test team versus New Zealand. Narine had taken an extended stay to help Kolkata lift the IPL crown before eventually factoring in a drab and dour home series against the Kiwis. Nonetheless, all would be forgotten as the tournament began because T20 in the Caribbean is synonymous with ‘The Carnival of Cricket’. The palance was in full effect.
The Tridents were a team who paced themselves steadily and meticulously peaked as the tournament progressed. Kieron Pollard as skipper proved yet again, astute, but in a subtler manner. He seemed calculated, composed but less vociferous. The much-travelled ‘Polly’ trusted his team, especially the youngsters. As Bajan stalwart Kirk Edwards surprisingly once again ‘ate level bench’, Polly ate his Trinidadian crackers, relying on Under-19 youngster Akeal Hosein, as well as the wicket-keeping latecomer in William Perkins, to bolster his team. With Shakib Al Hasan banned by the Bangladesh Cricket Board, it was left to the experienced bat of Shoaib Malik and the rip-roaring pacer in father-to-be Ravi Rampaul to assert their dominance. And so they did. Emphatically. Dwayne Smith and Rayad Emrit also turned in highly commendable performances throughout for a seasoned team that thrived under pressure. Even when Tino Best’s (St. Lucia Zouks) spat with Malik and rumors of a subsequent meltdown with Pollard back at the hotel room in Bridgetown threatened the peace, the Tridents were cool, calm and collected. Best wouldn’t travel to Trinidad for the next match as Lendl Simmons splashed some juicy details on Twitter, which surely would have riled the home-crowd against the continual antagonist. Just ask Andrew Flintoff and Ricky Ponting how easy a mark Best was. Mind the ‘Trinis’…and that he did.
When the curtain fell, Malik’s consistency in the crease still couldn’t match with the power of Simmons. ‘Simmo’ took player of the tournament, which his disposition showed to be nothing but a mere shadow of consolation. The Amazon Warriors controversially lost the finals via Duckworth-Lewis. Ramdin’s frustration as captain was evident throughout the match and even in the closing ceremony, his reluctance to take the mic spotlighted Guyana’s dismay. New Zealand duo, Martin Guptill and Jimmy Neesham, proved invaluable in the field and the former’s performance with the bat continued to win over fans. Throw in Krishmar Santokie’s swinging low-cutters and the ever-dependable Narine and it’s highly apparent why many were shocked they faltered again at the final hurdle. Always a bridesmaid.
That segues to another pertinent talking point awash on social media. Nine Trinidad and Tobago players in the finals (adding Navin Stewart to Guyana’s ranks) and a pair of Trini skippers ushering proceedings, yet the Red Steel were watching from the comfort of their couches. Seen by Trinidad as a way to break up the dominance of the ‘Red Force’, Anil Roberts, then Sports Minister of the country, wanted the nation’s name disbanded from the franchise as he saw it unbefitting. The government intervened as the fans and Dwayne Bravo ignored Roberts. They were rallying around an in-from Red Steel. However, this resilience transitioned into capitulation on the field as they fizzled from an assiduous position atop the table, self-destructing in the semis and gift-wrapping Jamaica’s win. Their poor fielding (particularly Kevon Cooper) struck a note with many pundits throughout the series but more so, it was Dwayne’s persistence as a death-bowler that saw a regression which fans have become all too familiar with. Nicholas Pooran, yet again, showed no semblance of critical thinking on the pitch, and while Ross Taylor, Kevin O’Brien and Darren Bravo anchored the team as best they could, the bowling severely disappointed. Compounding the misery was a mind-boggling semi-final decision to omit the Steel’s best bowler in Samuel Badree, which ended with Andre Russell’s one-man show pushing the red, white and black into the doldrums of regional T20. ‘Gone are the glory days’ appeared omnipresent within the minds of ‘Red Force’ fans.
As the Windies look to the ICC 50-over World Cup in January, cause for concern arose regarding Bravo’s leading capability. He still doesn’t instill the confidence that a captain should, even under the most trying circumstances. He’s no Alastair Cook, who rest assured won’t be caught dead clubbing after a victory or wining to ‘Go Gyal Go!’. Harsh words perhaps, but necessary after the Red Steel surrendered without fight.
Jamaica Tallawahs seemed to have the momentum of this disastrous TT display with them but somehow mimicked Bravo’s men as a team bent on ‘winging it’ in the semis. Unless captain Chris Gayle or Andre Russell came to the fore, the Tallawahs looked tentative and uncertain. The Warriors duly noted and manhandled them one day after Russell gutted Trinidad. With such a horrendous schedule, it wasn’t as shocking that Jamaica looked lethargic. A rest day should have been in order. As for Gayle, this tournament showed that his West Indian days are numbered as he relied on slogging and lusty blows with minimal running between wickets. It’s fit for the T20 format but something top-quality opposition will expose. Simmons, Dwayne Smith and the emerging Evin Lewis, offer new blood to move on with and bring depth in shoring up the top order. Many could…and would argue that Gayle isn’t as vulnerable as the lot critique him to be but it’s very clear that his status as a great servant of the game is inversely proportional to his mobility on the field.
The same old story emerged to prop the table. Darren Sammy’s Zouks proved just as much the whipping-boys with cellar-placed Antigua Hawksbills. The latter, led by another fading star in Marlon Samuels, appeared clueless in most matches, registering a lone win. In all fairness, their teams weren’t the strongest but as skippers, both show little tactical prowess on-field. They seemed focused on individual talents as opposed to getting the best out of a team. Their era also looks to be at an end, which culminated with the last WT20 tournament where we relinquished our title. With Sammy still skippering Windies T20 team, it’s simply a matter of time before Clive Lloyd realizes that progress with the youngsters needs to happen, as he’s already hinted.
Complaints? Not as many. A few recommendations, though.
The foreign contingent should have been stacked with bigger names. How else can we raise the level of our franchise cricket? Rusty Theron? 2013’s Davy Jacobs? Daniel Vettori grimacing to run the boundary? There needs to be an injection of talent into the auction to build bigger and more intimidating teams.
The regional youngsters need to step up. How else can they validate ousting the aging seniors? Be consistently better and your chance will come. One great innings in every four is not world-class.
Major talking point—the Caribbean needs to balance discipline with the fete-match bravado on the field. How else can we continue as a beacon of professionalism? The DJ ranting and raving in the finals while Trident’s Jeevan Mendis was on strike said it all. Mendis paused. The DJ ignored. Ian Bishop’s commentary apologized in shame of behalf of us all.
CPL 2014…a success? Hard to say.
Thrills? Most definitely.
But as it highlighted the frailties of our West Indians in the format of the game we should be owning, one thing’s fresh in mind.
Don’t follow the modus operandi of Spain’s national football team a la 2014.
Changes should be forthcoming for the West Indian T20 team.
No better place than here. No better time than now.
In closing, it must be asked—will Pollard or Smith play for the Tridents in the upcoming Champions League this September? Speculation aside, I posit a resounding “NO.”
2014 CPL HONOUR ROLL
Lendl Simmons (Amazon Warriors, 446 runs: average 49.55)
Ravi Rampaul (Tridents, 18 wickets)
Ross Taylor (Red Steel, 9)
Chris Gayle (111*, Tallawahs v Zouks); Dwayne Smith (110*, Tridents v Zouks & 104*, Tridents v Amazon Warriors); Marlon Samuels (106*, Hawksbills v Amazon Warriors)