It was the evening of July 30, 2013, and the Kensington Oval in Barbados was packed to capacity. The Caribbean and the rest of the globe stood still to take in what was happening.
The St Lucia Zouks players were already on the field, and as the Barbados Tridents openers, Dwayne Smith and Jonathon Carter, made their way out, the crowd erupted. The cheers got louder as the giant South African Albie Morkel steamed in with a shiny white ball in hand.
His effort was immediately rewarded as Smith facing up to a fullish delivery with a bit of away movement, swung his bat and nicked it behind for keeper Andre Fletcher to complete a simple catch.
The partisan home crowd was silenced, but something more significant had been happening- the Limacol Caribbean Premier League (CPL) was unfolding right before their eyes. What a start it had been for the region’s first franchise based T20 competition; a wicket off the very first ball.
The fielding side, the organisers and those who thrive on hyper activeness, could not have asked for better: it was action from the word go.
That set the tone for a riveting tournament, as territorial fans also seemed involved in a mini competition of their own to fill their stadia every time the “Biggest Party in Sport” touched down in their locale.
On the field, the cricket was simply breathtaking, as the region’s most sought-after, globe-trotting T20 stars- Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Darren Sammy, Sunil Narine, Andre Russell and Lendl Simmons- were on show, coupled with international stars Lasith Malinga, Tillekeratne Dilshan, Shoaib Malik, Martin Guptill, Vernon Philander, Mohammad Hafeez, Ricky Ponting, Muttiah Muralitharan and Shakib Al Hasan.
For those who could not get to the grounds, their homes had all the makings of a sport bar like atmosphere as they gathered to watch the action via television. A top-class panel of commentators had been assembled and the stream was on par with other global broadcast of international tournaments.
That first CPL was a historic success, as it set the foundation for the League, which has now become a household name, and a serious challenger to the popularity and success of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the Australian Big Bash.
CPL is now widely considered the third biggest T20 league in the world, behind the IPL and Big Bash, but it is still a work in progress, even after three years of colossal success and widespread global attention.
Now Hero CPL, the 2016 edition is set to deliver undoubtedly the most remarkable achievement- taking the game to the United States of America, Florida to be exact.
From the very first tournament there was talk of taking the league there, and after years of discussions and negotiations, it is now a reality.
CPL’s Head of Public Relations and Communications, Peter Breen, in a recent interview with me, hailed this latest development as a significant one in the short history of CPL.
“It’s a very exciting tournament to be a part of. I think it’s a massive year for cricket full stop, it would have started with the Big Bash into the various little tournaments that have been happening and I think with the growth and movement to America, that opens up a whole new avenue of possibilities for West Indies cricket and for CPL,” Breen explained.
He also spoke glowingly of the League’s global appeal, and the fact that it is a major hit on social media.
Breen highlighted, “It’s a tournament that’s definitely growing year on year and we know that in terms of social media, in terms of the global viewership as well. Last year 302,000 came through the turnstiles for CPL- that was a growth of 44%. It would be lovely to think we can sustain that crowd, but I’m not sure if we physically can, given the size of the stadia, but it is definitely a step in the right direction.”
With a large Caribbean diaspora in the US and a population slowly gravitating to the game, CPL 2016 is bound to attract the masses, as it heads to unchartered territory.
It is heading to a place where the established IPL and Big Bash have yet to venture; a bold statement from a very young T20 League. Enormous possibilities are abound, and the “Biggest Party in Sport” could soon earn the tag of “Revolutionist” as it regards global T20 franchise cricket.
As it was on that Bridgetown night three years ago, the Caribbean and the rest of the globe will be watching with keen eyes, as CPL turns a new chapter. (email@example.com)