Well, 'the biggest party in sport' bowls off next Tuesday at the Brian Lara Cricket Academy (BLCA) in Tarouba, San Fernando. Yes, folks, the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) T20 tournament is back but this year without the music, dancing, Trini posse, Tassa, flags and most significantly - spectators.
The CPL will just not be the same. We recently witnessed the biosecure Test series between England and the West Indies and although there were no crowds at the venues, the cricket was riveting but that is Test cricket. While the players would love to see the test grounds full, it is far different when it comes to T20 cricket. The players thrive off of the adrenaline from the atmosphere, the boundaries, the catches, the wickets, the run outs and the fist-pumping from the players really makes it the biggest party in sport. So, with no spectators and some of the regional and international stars not taking part in the tournament, what can we expect this year?
The surprise package last year - the Barbados Tridents - who came from an inconsistent 5 wins and 5 losses in the preliminary stage to win the tournament, must surely feel they can record back to back wins. It was right here at the BLCA that they defeated the tournament favourites, the Trinbago Knight Riders (TKR), in the semi-final and took care of the previously unbeaten Guyana Amazon Warriors (GAW) in the final. I thought much of their success, in the end, was down to their tactics as they did their homework to defeat the big guns at the death. Looking at their squad, they seem stronger in the bowling department. Hayden Walsh Jr. is back but this time he has with him Rashid Khan who is a world-class leg spinner. Traditionally, leggies have done well in the CPL and these two will be well-supported by Mitchell Santner, the left-arm orthodox spinner, and Ashley Nurse who bowled well in Trinidad. The medium-fast bowlers in their line up will be steady but not spectacular. Their batting is their concern and much will depend on Johnson Charles, Shamarh Brooks, Shai Hope, and Jonathan Carter to get the runs but they will feel confident to defend any total.
What does one say about the bridesmaid, the GAW? They played brilliantly until the final night when everything collapsed around them. 26-year-old Chris Green will lead them this year and while the South African born Australian cricketer is not by any means a world-class player, he gives 150% and will lead by example to inspire his team. Unlike the Tridents, their batting is their strength and any team with Shimron Hetmyer, Nicholas Pooran, Brandon King and the steady Ross Taylor will certainly feel they can chase any large total. The seasoned Imran Tahir will be their bowling trump card.
TKR will be their usual competitive self. Again led by Kieron Pollard, they have managed to retain the majority of their 2019 squad and while the wicketkeeping duties this year have gone to Tim Seifert (who has replaced Denesh Ramdin), they possess a well-balanced team. They have secured the services of Fawad Ahmed who proves that there is no substitute for a good working 'old thing'. They bat deep and in addition to Ahmed, they have the bowling armoury to suit any type of bowling conditions.
Veteran Trinbagonian Rayad Emrit will lead the St Kitts & Nevis Patriots and for me, they may very well be the dark horse in the tournament. They have some real individual match-winners in this team. Evin Lewis will need to sparkle at the top of the order together with the Australian pair of Chris Lynn and Ben Dunk with Ramdin guiding the middle and lower order. Sheldon Cottrell and Sohail Tanvir can make early inroads into any batting line up and if Ish Sodhi can acclimatise early on, he can be among the wickets. Do not underestimate this team.
St Lucia Zouks may struggle as they have lost some big players including Chris Gayle before the tournament started. They have secured the services of the hard-hitting Najibullah Zadran and together with Andre Fletcher, they will need to score runs consistently to give the bowlers something to defend. As a bowling unit when one looks through their lineup, talent is abundant but over the years, they have grown to throw in the towel when things are not going their way. Darren Sammy will have to keep their spirit up and get them to play cricket to their maximum potential.
Last but not least is the Jamaica Tallawahs. How can a team with so much talent finish at the bottom of the table in 2019? Obviously, it had to do with off the field antics as a few 'big name' players seemed unhappy during the season. Rovman Powell has been handed the captain's armband and if this team can focus on playing cricket, they could be up there with the top four. Any team with Andre 'Superman' Russell in it is a threat. Sandeep Lamichhane. with Russell, will spearhead their attack but like TKR, this is a well-balanced team and can take the title moving from last to first. Batting wise, Glenn Phillips will be key, and if Jermaine Blackwood bats intelligently, he can be extremely dangerous.
With no spectators, TKR will not have their 12th man this season so it should even things out and with all the regional and international players in a “bubble” at the Hilton Hotel to be joined tomorrow by the local players, the question is who will hit the ground running? The pitches will be slow because of all the rain we have been having and the batsmen will have to adjust quickly to suit the slow pitches.
My four? TKR, Jamaica Tallawahs, Guyana Amazon Warriors and St Kitts and Nevis Patriots but spectators or no spectators it will surely be a great and competitive tournament. May the best team win. Good luck!
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of any organisation of which he is a stakeholder.