(Reprinted from Wisden, India)
“Carlos Brathwaite, remember the name!”
It was little past noon on Sunday (April 3) when Ian Bishop’s deep baritone bellowed out of television sets across living rooms in Barbados as one of its sons cracked four consecutive sixes to carry West Indies to a fascinating win in the final of the ICC World Twenty20 2016 against a shell-shocked England, 9000 miles away at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata.
Brathwaite, the chief protagonist of that electric finish, did, for sure, etch his name in the history books, but where was this burly youngster, who made his T20I debut back in 2011 against Bangladesh, all this while? Brathwaite, who played six of the eight T20Is in his career in this tournament alone, turned out for West Indies just once in three years since his first appearance, before returning to the side late last year.
Brathwaite’s comeback was largely fuelled by his success in the last two editions of the Caribbean Premier League (CPL), the domestic T20 league in the West Indies. The tournament highlighted his abilities with the ball and his middle-order power-hitting prowess, which automatically made him the ideal option to replace Kieron Pollard, who was ruled out of the World T20 with a last-minute injury.
It was not just Brathwaite who earned a recall to the national set-up after impressive stints at the CPL. Andre Fletcher and Sulieman Benn too had faded off the international circuit for a couple of years before resurrecting their careers through the CPL springboard.
“For us, it is a great feeling to know that we played a small role in giving some of the guys a platform to return to this victorious national team,” Pete Russell, the chief operating officer of the CPL, told Wisden India in a chat following the side’s emphatic win. “Brathwaite, for example, has been a star in the CPL, and look what he’s done for West Indies in this tournament.
“Today, internationally, T20 cricket is the No. 1 format of the game in terms of popularity. We are proud of the way in which CPL has grown over the years, and the fantastic platform it has provided for the youngsters. Remember, the tournament not only gives the boys a platform to showcase their talent, but also gives them an invaluable opportunity to earn the experience of playing alongside some of the best international players in the world.”
As Darren Sammy, and most of his teammates, repeatedly pointed out, the victory was dedicated to the passionate fans of cricket in the Caribbean, who have been disgruntled by the side’s disappointing run in Tests and One-Day Internationals over the past couple of decades, but now find hope in the team’s success in the shortest format of the game.
“We would love to have Indian players in the tournament. A stage like the CPL will give youngsters an opportunity to play cricket outside India, which can help them innovate in conditions which are not available back home.”
“We can see it already, from the fans to the sponsors, everybody is ecstatic about the success West Indies have achieved this year,” said Damien O’Donohoe, CPL’s chief executive officer. “I have no doubt that this summer, cricket fans will come out in huge numbers to cheer on their heroes when the tournament gets under way. The CPL will stand alongside West indies in every step to help develop the game and build on this incredible success across the islands.”
It was not just the men who brought silverware to the West Indies cupboard this year. A couple of months ago, the Under-19 boys from the Caribbean shocked India in the final of the Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh, and hours before Sammy’s men lifted the cup, West Indies Women beat New Zealand Women to secure the title of world champions too.
While some of the U-19 boys from that side are expected to turn out in the CPL this year, it will take some time before a women’s version of the competition becomes a reality.
“There are six of the U-19 boys in each of our six franchises this season,” confirmed Russell. “They are all very talented, and their success in the world cup would have already earned them a lot of fans.”
About the women’s tournament, O’Donohoe said, “We are working with the WICB about that. We are not going to have the time to organise a tournament for the women this year, but yes, we are proud of the way they played in the Women’s World T20 competition, and hope to have a women’s CPL across the islands soon.”
The CPL recently confirmed that this edition would break new ground by staging some of the contests in the United States of America for the first time, with the matches to be played in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. To top that off, six associate players from the North American region were also picked to play in the tournament during the draft earlier this year.
Meanwhile, India are set to tour the West Indies in July to play a four-Test series. This means it could clash with, and disrupt, the CPL, which is set to be played between June 21 and July 26.
“We have been working closely with the WICB about that,” said Russell. “But I feel the Indian team touring West Indies at that time is not necessarily a bad thing for the CPL. Firstly, the Tests and the CPL games are going to be played in different countries, though yes, around the same dates. It is an opportunity for the players and fans to enjoy the abundance of cricket that will be going on in the islands at that time. I believe there will be a strong media contingent from India in the Caribbean at that time too, so that will hopefully also help extend our global coverage. We know how big cricket is in India, and how much the fans love their cricket. Some of the guys from West Indies who will be playing in the CPL are extremely popular in India, so I’m sure this gives us a good opportunity to reach out further to the billions of cricket fans out there.”
The Indian cricketers, most of whom have fans across the world, only take part in the Indian Premier League when it comes to franchise-based cricket tournaments, but O’Donohoe feels their presence in other leagues like the CPL would further boost the popularity of the competitions.
Himanish Bhattacharjee is Staff Writer at Wisden India. He tweets @TheHimanish