Batting for the future

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Overseas cricketing legends have been a feature of the Caribbean Premier League since it began, but the development of homegrown talent has been equally notable. James Fuller takes a look at the CPL’s search for the next local star

From its launch in 2013, the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) has afforded the world’s best players a platform on which to showcase their skills. Watching sporting titans such as Ricky Ponting, AB de Villiers, Kumar Sangakkara, Brendon McCullum and Jacques Kallis locking horns with local favourites such as Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Marlon Samuels and Dwayne Bravo has provided some memorable moments. But just as entertaining has been the sight of our very own Caribbean young guns mixing it with the best in the business.

In its relatively brief history, the CPL has proved itself to be an important nursery for emerging Caribbean cricketers, and the establishment of that production line has not been a chance occurrence.

“The CPL’s philosophy on developing young cricketers is to mandate the selection of young, age-group cricketers to be a part of each franchise squad through the rules and regulations which govern the annual player draft,” says Tournament Operations Director Michael Hall. “Doing so provides them with the opportunity to enter the world of professional cricket, with high-level training and competition in an intense six-week period. During the CPL these young players are exposed to, and get to interact with, some of the best players and coaches in the world. If they are smart, they will soak up this opportunity like sponges.”

Those who have most recently soaked up this opportunity, and consequently taken their games to the next level, include Oshane Thomas and Rovman Powell at Jamaica Tallawahs, Shimron Hetmyer and Sherfane Rutherford at Guyana Amazon Warriors, Obed McCoy at St Lucia Stars, Khary Pierre at Trinbago Knight Riders, Nicholas Pooran at Barbados Tridents and Fabian Allen at St Kitts & Nevis Patriots. “A lot of these young West Indian players, by showcasing their talent in the CPL, now find themselves in demand in other T20 leagues around the world,” says Hall.

Talent on show
This nurturing of young West Indian cricketers is given structure in the form of developmental spots. At the time of press, every CPL squad was mandated to feature two under-23 Caribbean players, one under-19 Caribbean player and one ICC Americas player.

Developmental spots have been in place, in one form or another, since the second season of the CPL in 2014. They were introduced because the league saw the need to provide young West Indian players with another avenue through which they could transition from U19 to senior level cricket.

“The league operates the tournament under licence from Cricket West Indies (CWI), and we continue to work closely with them to ensure that their mission of developing the players and the game is supported,” says Hall. “As the ICC full-member body in the region, CWI is responsible for ensuring that development programmes in the Americas region are given their support, and the mandatory inclusion of an ICC Americas player in each squad was seen as one ‘automatic’ way of carrying out that responsibility.”

In other sports and leagues around the world, mandatory playing time for particular groups of players has been instituted. It is something that will be seen in the CPL as well, but which needs to be treated with caution. “Mandatory playing time for development players has not been instituted previously, and right now the question is not if it will happen, but when,” says Hall. “However, while this is being looked at very closely for the 2019 season, and could be implemented, it must be managed very carefully. While there is an obvious need to provide these players with in-game experience, this must be balanced against the impact that their forced participation may have on a franchise’s competitiveness.”

Overall, Hall feels the opportunities the CPL has provided have achieved the desired outcomes, with more young players getting the exposure they otherwise wouldn’t have had.

Back to the roots
But what about the level below the professional game, away from the big hits and bright lights? Does the CPL and its partners have a role and a responsibility to fire cricket’s grassroots as well?

“I do think that CPL has a responsibility to give back to the people and countries that have supported this tournament since its inception in 2013,” says Digicel Caribbean Senior Marketing Executive Britney Jongue. “This can be done through various grassroots programmes targeting the youth, such as the Digicel Youth Cricket Series, the main objective of which is providing a platform for up-and-coming cricketers to hone their skills and get training from the best in the game.”

The Digicel Youth Cricket Series has been run for the past two years. In 2018 it featured a number of components. It began with an online competition in each of the six CPL markets – Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia and Barbados – where the public voted for a school to win the opportunity to work with a CPL star.

The winning schools then had a surprise visit from that CPL cricketer, who announced their win and told them they would be participating in coaching sessions with some of their heroes. The coaching session was held at a first-class cricket ground, with Cricket West Indies coaches and a CPL player working with kids from the winning schools. The children then progressed to ‘Take it to the Beach’, in which they played beach cricket with the CPL star.

In St Lucia, Leon Hess Comprehensive Secondary School student Shawn Edward was one of the youngsters fortunate enough to receive guidance from former West Indies captain Darren Sammy. “I think it’s a good experience for us to be meeting some of the great coaches,” says Edward. “We are happy to learn all aspects of cricket – batting, bowling, keeping, fielding.”

In Trinidad & Tobago, Isaiah Fernandes from Fatima College was put through his paces by Trinbago Knight Riders wicketkeeper-batsman Denesh Ramdin. Fernandes says the training session “was a really good experience for me and my colleagues, and I’d strongly suggest anybody who would like to come to it to come again next year”.

Carlos Brathwaite (St Kitts & Nevis), Jason Holder (Barbados), Devendra Bishoo (Guyana), and Oshane Thomas and Andre McCarthy (Jamaica) also took part in the programme.

“For me, the most fulfilling thing about the programme is seeing the participants work on perfecting their skills alongside the best CPL players and coaches,” says Jongue. “We are able to inspire them and show them how possible it is for them to gain a career in the sport that they love. Cricket is a big passion in the region, and we’re always looking for ways to preserve and give back to the sport through youth development.”

Jongue says that future generations should be inspired by what can be achieved through the CPL. “The opportunities that exist through the CPL are endless,” she notes. “We have seen the rise of international stars across the region who have made their debut through the CPL. Youngsters should continue to harness their skills, as the best of the best across the region will get the opportunities to represent their countries at this tournament, which is a pathway for future success for years to come.”

And she feels the future is looking bright. “The future for cricket not only in the Caribbean region but across the world looks promising. Just as with any other sport, the game of cricket has transitioned from the traditional test matches and one-day matches, and now to the exhilarating and exciting T20 tournaments.”

The CPL has grown from strength to strength and is now seen as ‘the biggest party in sport’. “It delivers a unique, Carnival-like experience to fans, keeping the spirit of the game alive across the region,” says Jongue. “With this tournament, and through the introduction of initiatives like the Digicel Youth Cricket Series, the game of cricket will be kept alive for years to come.”

 

Q&A with Shimron Hetmyer

At just 22 years old, he’s one of the CPL’s brightest young talents, has played in front of huge crowds in India’s IPL and at the World Cup, and counts modern-day legends as teammates. ZiNG sits down to talk Virat Kohli, cricketing influences and everything CPL with the fresh Guyanese star

What impact has the CPL had on Caribbean cricket? For me, from 2013 until now it has had a very big impact. I think the Caribbean fans and players have enjoyed watching the CPL grow, and the Caribbean people really look forward to the CPL each year.

What are your earliest CPL memories? When Guyana got into the final in the first year of the tournament. And I am hopeful we can lift the trophy this year!

Was the CPL an inspiration as a youngster? Yes and no, because when I actually started playing for Guyana and cemented my place, I was mainly focusing on four-day cricket. But I think that it has really helped develop my white ball cricket skills, especially my attacking options and ball striking in T20 and ODI cricket.

Who are some of the CPL players you have most admired? This is an easy one for me. That would be Chris Gayle and Andre Russell. Mainly because of their ball striking and how Gayle sets up an innings – he takes his time, gets set and then goes. And then Russell coming and just going from ball one.

Has the CPL been a big influence on your career? It has definitely helped me by playing in front of big crowds and also playing with and against some top international players. It’s helped with my ball striking and attacking play in one-day cricket and has given me a good platform to perform. I believe this has helped me with recognition at international level and the IPL.

How do you prepare for an upcoming CPL campaign? I do set goals, but I focus mainly on trying to get starts in matches and then capitalising on them and going on to get scores. I try to score the most runs I can to help the team get as many wins as possible.

What is your fondest personal CPL memory? My biggest memory would be the hundred I got in Florida against Jamaica. [On 18 August 2018, Shimron became the youngest batsman to score a century in the CPL, for Guyana Amazon Warriors against the Jamaica Tallawahs at Lauderhill, Florida.]

Is the CPL now the route for talented Caribbean youngsters to progress? It certainly offers a big opportunity to perform and to get the international selectors to take notice of you. The West Indies Test, ODI and T20 teams are still the main focus for any young cricketer to focus on, but I think the CPL can offer a great opportunity to develop and show your skills as a young player on your journey towards higher honours in international cricket.

What advice would you give to other young Caribbean players? Keep working hard, keep training, and keep learning from the senior players and overseas players.

Has there been any one player in the Guyana Amazon Warriors who has been particularly helpful in your development? Keemo Paul – he is like my small brother. He helps me in every different way possible. We push each other, and train hard with and against each other. Also we help each other with advice about each other’s games and training.

How do you rate the Guyana Amazon Warriors’ chances in CPL 2019? I think with Guyana we always have a good team, it is just about the players on the day and having the good performances and putting it out on the field. So it is all about delivering our skills under pressure and for us as a team and individuals to step up on different occasions.

What’s it been like playing alongside Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers in the IPL? It has been a huge honour and also really fun. They are very good guys and are obviously amazing cricketers. They are hugely experienced as far as cricket is concerned, both AB and Virat. They are also very fun to be around. They take the game very, very seriously and are very passionate about what they do as well.

Any closing thoughts on the CPL? For me the CPL has been fantastic so far. I think it’s one of best things that has ever happened to the Caribbean, and it should continue for many, many years to come. It’s just bringing out the best in the different people in the Caribbean and knowing the different talents that are around in the Caribbean as well.

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