WICB and CPL comfy bedfellows … for now

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 By Osman Samiuddin

It promises to be a bumper summer this one, in the Caribbean. The entire month of June is devoted to an ODI tri-series with Australia and South Africa.

Darren Sammy, Captain of the West Indies celebrates victory during the ICC World Twenty20 India 2016 Final match between England and West Indies at Eden Gardens on April 3, 2016 in Kolkata, India. Ryan Pierse / Getty Images
Darren Sammy, Captain of the West Indies celebrates victory during the ICC World Twenty20 India 2016 Final match between England and West Indies at Eden Gardens on April 3, 2016 in Kolkata, India. (Ryan Pierse /Getty Images)

Big a draw as that is, the really big one is after, when India arrive for a four-Test series. Though the schedule is not yet final, and there is always a chance, given the newly capricious nature of bilateral cricket, that it does not happen, the series is expected to run through July and August.

Concurrent to that is another big one – the other big one, the new big one: the Caribbean Premier League (CPL). They announced their schedule some time ago (June 29 to August 7) and it includes a potentially seismic swing in Florida. Whatever the schedule with India, a clash between the CPL and the Tests is unavoidable.

And just as the Big Bash League (BBL) did last year in Australia, when it played out alongside the Test season, it will raise uncomfortable questions about the coexistence not of two different formats but two different products altogether.

Can a multi-national, domestic Twenty20 league really, as Cricket Australia’s chief executive James Sutherland put it at the time, live in a symbiotic relationship with international cricket? Or is it a cannibalistic equation, the younger product snapping like a piranha at the enfeebled, slow-moving whale that is the order?

The question was felt acutely in Australia where crowds flocked to the BBL, ignoring the Tests. But there, for now, you can understand Sutherland’s relative unconcern in accommodating both products. Last season the BBL thrived in some part because Australia’s Test opponents – the West Indies – were so uncompetitive. The Ashes, or an India series, will be inestimably tougher competition for the BBL.

In the Caribbean this summer, the question of this clash will gain far more currency. It will probably not be the last time it happens either, and, without being too dramatic, it has the makings of a seminal moment.

Foremost it will shine a light on the uneasy, stretched compromise that West Indies cricket exists in. India is a series they cannot do without, beholden as they are anyway financially to the visitor. The CPL is a product they cannot do without either; already its impact is tangible.

One will be an event in which the chances of West Indies defeat are high, the matches of which are likely to be played out in mostly barren stadiums. Interest in it will be sustained mostly by the vast juggernaut of the Indian media, both by its broadcast and a sizeable travelling press contingent.

The other will play out as an event that, according to organisers, attracted over 300,000 people to its games last year, a growth of over 40 per cent from the previous year, and 90 million TV viewers across the globe. In that event, West Indies cannot lose.

The contrast will be stark, even if this event is also inextricably linked to Indian might: the title sponsor of the CPL is an Indian motorcycle manufacturer, two of its franchises owned by Indians.

And, somehow, both the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and CPL organisers will try to ensure as many of the region’s best players appear in each, to make both as sellable as possible, all the while as a several of these players sit in dispute with the WICB. Fiddle anymore with that and it might just snap.

For this season, a compromise has been reached. The WICB has retained a patina of primacy; players such as Jason Holder, Marlon Samuels, Denesh Ramdin, Darren Bravo, Kemar Roach and Carlos Brathwaite will probably play in the Tests. (thenational.ae)

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