The popular consensus is that the inaugural Limacol Caribbean Premier League was a “massive success.” The players performed, the crowds partied and the sponsors, organisers and West Indies Cricket Board were over the proverbial moon.
According to Chief Executive Damien O’Donohoe, “We have exceeded every benchmark we set.” He and his associates had every right to be pleased: sell-out crowds; 37 commercial partners, including Holly-wood actors, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, an apparel partner and four national tourism boards; and a global television audience to ensure that the carnival atmosphere reached beyond the region. A second edition in 2014 is all but guaranteed.
Trinidadian cricket journalist Garth Wattley, writing on Cricinfo, dubbed the CPL the “people’s festival,” noting that, “with the right packaging, people will come, and keep coming – to T20 cricket, at the least” and that the Caribbean people have also fully embraced franchise cricket.
Indeed, in spite of the disdain of the few remaining purists in the region for what they consider to be the dumbed-down version of the great game and the suspicions of some regarding the franchise concept – particularly in Barbados where there were initial objections to Kieron Pollard leading the Barbados Tridents and in Trinidad and Tobago where there continues to be grumbling about the national team being denuded of its stars – Mr Wattley could not fault the passion of the players or the fans. But although he concluded, “This was regional integration by force,” there was still an element of artifice in the way the franchises were created and marketed. After all, the organisers were smart enough not to farm Chris Gayle out to the St Lucia Zouks or Antigua Hawksbills.
It is, admittedly, an artificial construct for an artificial game. But when all’s said and done, most fans were able to wrap their heads around supporting teams supposedly representing their country, yet boasting a significant percentage of non-nationals. Anything is now possible and Mr O’Donohoe is talking of the possibility of other franchises in North America, in cities where there are large populations of West Indians, Indians and Pakistanis. Lest we forget, the T20 phenomenon is, above all, about entertainment and making money.
But a few other important issues have also been raised, the most critical being, in the cricketing context, the quality of the pitches (a long-standing problem in regional cricket, which might finally get the attention it deserves); and from a tourism perspective, the unreliability of regional air transport, specifically Liat (another long-standing problem which needs to be fixed without further dithering).
The great hope, though, is that the fillip imparted by the CPL will somehow improve the health of West Indies cricket in general. The WICB will benefit financially, through the annual licensing fee it receives from the CPL for the right to host the tournament, and from a percentage of the future profits of the CPL. In this regard, CPL revenue is expected to fund 60 annual retainer contracts for regional players, as well as a number of development programmes, involving West Indies legends, which should contribute to identifying, nurturing and keeping talent in the region.
WICB President Dave Cameron has said that the Board is “currently discussing and examining ways and opportunities of leveraging the success of the CPL to the wider benefit of West Indies cricket, particularly with regard to regional tournaments and match attendance.” With poor marketing and poor attendance characterising regional first class and one-day cricket, Test cricket and ODIs, the WICB could learn a lot from the slick promotion and organisational excellence of the CPL. The problem of sub-standard cricket however remains.
Interestingly enough, there seems to be some optimism that the enthusiasm generated by the CPL will somehow translate into better performances at the regional, ODI and Test levels. Frankly, we are not sure how this quantum leap will come about and we are not the only dissenting voice.
Former Combined Islands and West Indies wicketkeeper, Mike Findlay, also a former WICB chairman of selectors and team manager, has expressed doubt as to whether “this type of cricket will help to move the game forward.” For if the fans and the players themselves are more attracted to the glitz and glamour of T20, the overwhelming challenge will be “to sustain the longer version of the game.”
Enthusiasm and flair are not enough; discipline and technique are also indispensable in the longer versions of the game. T20 does not examine the mental, physical and technical skills of cricketers as do ODIs and Test matches, even if fielding and running between the wickets have shown some improvement. But views such as these may well be drowned out by the cacophony surrounding T20 and the success of the CPL.
The bottom line is that the general public finds T20 more entertaining and the players will opt for its more lucrative returns, even whilst paying lip service to the notion of Test cricket as the highest form of the game. And Test matches will continue to be sacrificed around the world in the interest of more T20.
T20 represents not only changes in contemporary culture and popular taste, it is the way of the modern world and a reflection of economic realities. The Limacol CPL has clearly shown this. And sad to say, if things continue this way, there may not be much of a future for Test cricket in the West Indies.