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CPL_T20_Caribbean_Premier_League_cricket_West_IndiesIt is that time of the year when cricket grounds across the Caribbean transform into full-fledged carnivals. The sixth edition of the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) kicks off on August 8, and promises to bring with it thrills and twists that will keep T20 enthusiasts on the edge of their seats for the 40-day duration of the tournament. The opening game will see defending champions Trinbago Knight Riders pitted against the St. Lucia Stars at Port-of-Spain’s Queen’s Park Oval.

The Knight Riders’ 2017 triumph was built around a solid team effort that gave them eight wins from their ten group games. The Trinidad and Tobago franchise’s imports from New Zealand, Colin Munro and Brendon McCullum, were up to the task and ended up as their top two run-scorers. But their real strength lay in their bowling, with off-spinner Sunil Narine and 18-year-old Pakistani leg-spinner Shadab Khan repeatedly stifling batsmen with their combined mastery.

Shadab, who will not be in action this year, was a revelation in his first CPL season, taking 12 wickets at 15.33 and, more importantly, an economy rate of 5.75. The seasoned Narine also netted 12 victims, at an even better economy rate of 5.39. The spinners were aided well by the medium pace of captain Dwayne Bravo and Kevon Cooper, who scalped 16 and 12 wickets respectively. Cooper was the player of the final against the St. Kitts and Nevis Patriots, for his all-round show of 2/12 and 29*.

The Knight Riders squad also includes the ever-improving fast bowler Shannon Gabriel, who comes off a splendid home Test season against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and will be looking to continue in the same vein in the T20 format as well. With a well-rounded squad at their disposal, one cannot rule out the possibility of the Knight Riders becoming the first team to win the CPL thrice (before 2017, they had won in 2015) and also the first to successfully defend their title.

Having been a part of the recently-concluded Global T20 Canada, the Australian duo of Steven Smith and David Warner will play in the CPL as well. The two are serving one-year bans from international cricket, slapped on by Cricket Australia in the aftermath of the farcical ball-tampering episode in South Africa in March. While Smith will ply his trade for the Barbados Tridents as a replacement for the unavailable Shakib Al Hasan, Warner will turn out for the St. Lucia Stars.   

Chris Gayle, captain of the Patriots, had to be content with the runners-up prize last year, and will strive to go one better this time. Evin Lewis, Gayle’s partner at the top for the West Indies in limited-overs internationals, will open the innings with him for the Patriots as well. Though he soon turns 39, Gayle is not showing signs of slowing down just yet, and remains a sharp weapon for any T20 side. The hard-hitting Carlos Brathwaite further lends firepower to the Patriots line-up.

Andre Russell, a sought-after name on the domestic T20 circuit, makes a return to the CPL after having missed the 2017 edition due to a doping ban. A T20 globetrotter like Gayle, the imposing pace-bowling all-rounder will captain the Jamaica Tallawahs, winners of the 2013 and 2016 editions. With their squad also boasting the likes of Shahid Afridi, David Miller, Kemar Roach and Samuel Badree, the Tallawahs look sturdy enough to be one of the front-runners this year.

In-form West Indian captain Jason Holder also returns to the league, having last played in 2015. Aptly, he will be leading the Tridents, his native franchise. The Tridents, who will aim to add to their 2014 title win, have within their ranks players such as Martin Guptill, Steven Smith and Hashim Amla, besides local favorite Dwayne Smith, who scored the only two hundreds in the 2017 edition. If these big guns click as a unit, then it will take some doing to stop the Tridents.

The only non-Caribbean captain in the fray is Pakistan’s Shoaib Malik, who will be in charge of the Guyana Amazon Warriors. The Amazon Warriors have made it to three out of five finals thus far, but have failed to win a single title. A repeat of 2017 from Chadwick Walton, who was the leading run scorer with a tally of 458, and Malik’s compatriot Sohail Tanvir, who was the leading wicket-taker with a haul of 17, would go a long way in changing the team’s fortunes.

It is a bit ironic that the only team not to have entered a CPL final is the one that includes two-time World T20-winning captain Darren Sammy. The St. Lucia Stars have flattered to deceive thus far, and setting the record straight would be foremost on their agenda. There is enough ammunition in their camp, what with the presence of skipper Kieron Pollard, Lendl Simmons and Niroshan Dickwella. But it will take a collective effort to seal that elusive place in the final.

Among the notable overseas players who will be playing in the CPL for the first time are Australian opener D’Arcy Short (Stars) and 18-year-old Nepalese leg-spin sensation Sandeep Lamichhane (Patriots). In particular, it will be interesting to see how Lamichhane performs, and whether he can follow the footsteps of Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan, who took 14 wickets for the Amazon Warriors in 2017, as the second teenager from an emerging nation to light up the CPL.

Lamichhane held his own for the Delhi Daredevils in this year’s Indian Premier League, and another assured display can make his stock rise higher, especially with Nepal now having ODI status. Speaking of emerging nations, there are a handful of players from the United States of America who have the chance to make a mark in the CPL, including the highly talented Steven Taylor (Tallawahs), Saurabh Netravalkar (Amazon Warriors) and Jaskaran Malhotra (Stars).

For the third year in a row, the CPL will also be played in the USA. The Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill, Florida is set to host three games between August 18 and 22 - all of them involving the Tallawahs, against the Amazon Warriors, the Knight Riders and the Tridents - in line with the league’s keenness to tap into the American market. Like last year, the final will be played at the Brian Lara Cricket Academy stadium in Tarouba in Trinidad and Tobago.

May the best team win! 

 

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Rustom Deboo is a cricket aficionado and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of T...

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