The great cricket carnival

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As the Hero Caribbean Premier League rolls into the region, James Fuller looks into why it truly is the ‘biggest party in sport’

The Hero Caribbean Premier League (CPL) is back this August – and it’s set to be bigger and better than ever. Living up to its tagline – ‘The Biggest Party in Sport’ – this young competition has brought life back to Caribbean cricket. The CPL has become something of a phenomenon, and continues to grow. It has pioneered live Facebook broadcasts, boosted local economies and is seeking to expand, the goal being to include teams based permanently in the USA and Canada.

Indeed, the Hero CPL has grown massively since it first joined the ranks of global T20 tournaments in 2013; in that time, its worldwide TV audience has doubled to 200 million. The regional spend associated with the tournament hit US$100 million in 2017, with more than 33,000 hotel rooms filled and 2,710 local personnel employed. That regional visitor spend has increased by 161% over the tournament’s five years, and the quality of cricketers signed up to play continues to improve each year.

So what is behind the success – and where can the tournament go from here?

Caribbean on show
Hero CPL Chief Executive Officer Damien O’Donohoe says that it has been a rollercoaster journey. “Our biggest success has been injecting life back into cricket in the Caribbean,” he says. “We have seen sellout crowds and massive global TV audiences tuning in to watch great cricket in stunning surroundings. Through the tournament we have been able to promote all that is so great about the Caribbean, and really drive sports tourism.”

On a sporting level, the CPL has greatly increased the standard of T20 cricket in the region. “We have seen young cricketers from the region develop their skills and go on to further recognition for both the Windies and in T20 leagues around the world,” O’Donohoe says. “We saw in the 2017 final how young players from the region have responded to pressure. Javon Searles saw the Trinbago Knight Riders home. Now he has been signed up for the Indian Premier League, and he will get to showcase his skills on a global stage. We have seen this time and again over the past five years. The way that young players learn is by being in highly pressurised situations – and the Hero CPL has plenty of those.”

Pitch pioneers
The league has been at the cutting edge of using digital platforms – it was the first to broadcast games over Facebook Live – and has groundbreaking deals to place content on Twitter. O’Donohoe is keen to see that continue in 2018, but this path has not always been a smooth one. “We’re happy to admit that there have been mistakes over the years,” he says. “The biggest of those was in 2014 when we moved games to the daytime so that it was better timed for TV markets around the world. It didn’t work – crowds fell. The Hero CPL is a night-time product and it needs to have the carnival atmosphere that makes it so different from the other T20 offerings around the world. We have billed the event as ‘The Biggest Party in Sport’, and people like to party into the night.”

Taking games to Florida, USA, was “a qualified success”, O’Donohoe concedes. “We are delighted to have played a part in helping to grow the game in the USA, and our visits have coincided with our attempts to work with the cricketing community in America to develop the sport. We have worked with young cricketers, the national team and administrators and officials to develop their skills.” The cricket has been good, O’Donohoe reckons, but it’s been expensive. “The stadium in Broward County, Florida, is really just a shell of a ground. We have to bring in everything, including lights. All of that makes it a very expensive undertaking. We are delighted to be involved in bringing cricket to the USA, but we are a private league and we have to be looking at the bottom line.”

But don’t fear, North American cricket fans: the will is there to pursue further involvement in North America. “The ICC [International Cricket Council] is putting their new governance structure in place for US cricket, and we are working very closely with them so fans can expect to see a lot more top-class cricket in the US in years to come,” says O’Donohoe. “We want the CPL to continue to grow. We would like to expand from the strong base we’ve built. At the moment, we have six teams, and we think we can grow from there to as many as eight. It would be great to have teams based in the USA and maybe even Canada.”

Doing it differently
The world is seemingly awash with T20 tournaments: there are major leagues in India, Australia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and the T20 Global League kicks off in South Africa in November. But O’Donohoe doesn’t see them as competition; he feels the CPL offers a unique package.

“The Hero CPL is one of the biggest tournaments in the world, and we are hoping to see it grow further,” says O’Donohoe. “We don’t really see our job as to challenge other T20 tournaments. We have a very different product. The IPL is always going to be the biggest league in the world, and India will always be the hub of world cricket. The Big Bash is set up as an offering for families, and has done very well at marketing to them. We see ourselves as something different. We really look to be the ‘Biggest Party’, and that offers us something different. I think the CPL is a tournament that should make the cricket fans of the region very proud.”

In the final analysis it’s that party atmosphere, the heady combo of music, colour, glamour and big-hitting international stars mixing it with local talent, that has ensured the burgeoning popularity of the Hero CPL. “The ‘Biggest Party in Sport’ is much more than a tagline,” adds O’Donohoe. “Any cricketers who have come to the tournament really embrace the carnival lifestyle while they are here, and anyone that has come to a game will know the atmosphere is something else. The final at the Brian Lara Cricket Academy in 2017 was the best atmosphere we’ve ever experienced at a sporting event.”

O’Donohoe concludes, “If you love sport and having a good time there is no better place to enjoy both of those things than at the CPL, where world-class cricket combines with what makes the Caribbean so special – great weather, wonderful scenery and having a great time.”

‘‘It’s pretty hard to beat’’

Colin Munro is one of the most explosive T20 batsmen in the world, and last year’s most valuable player for CPL Champions Trinbago Knight Riders. His power hitting saw him become the first international batsman to notch up three T20 centuries, and the first overseas player to score a hundred in the CPL. We discover what makes the New Zealander tick, the reasons behind his incredible form, and his feelings about the CPL

What has the CPL done for you?
If I hadn’t got picked up by Trinbago Knight Riders a couple of years ago, I don’t know if I’d be where I am today, if I’m honest. It was such a great foundation. They gave me the opportunity. Then all of a sudden I’ve done well in the CPL, and I get a chance to go up the order for New Zealand. It’s catapulted my career.

What’s special about the CPL?
The games have a carnival atmosphere – lots of noise – and it’s great to play in front of that. The fans are hugely passionate and very knowledgeable. You go to many grounds around the world and that’s not the case. Here you’ll talk with fans after the match and they’re onto everything that happened in the game. Plus you get to visit some wonderful places. It’s pretty hard to beat.

Why do you think the CPL is going from strength to strength?
The calibre of overseas players in the league is just getting better and better, and that takes the competition to another level. Players can earn a lot of money from T20 contracts around the world now, so the pressure to perform has intensified. That makes for great cricket and a great spectacle when the top guys are going at it head to head.

Has your batting improved?
The times I’ve batted well are when I’ve gone out with a completely clear mind. I try to stay in that free mindset – a ‘see-ball hit-ball’ mentality. Keep it simple. Stay in the now. Back your instincts. Play each ball on its merits. Be aggressive. I now have the freedom to go out there and back my natural game. In the past, especially when I batted in the middle order, I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the guy to win every game. I didn’t know what tempo to bat at. But at the top of the order you bat pretty much the same way every time. That goes a long way to being more consistent.

What’s your cricket philosophy?
I always had belief in my ability, and felt maybe others didn’t back me quite so much. With that you then fall into a mindset of trying to please others, trying to do what you think is the right thing at the time but turns out not to be. Now I ask a lot more questions about what my role is, nail that down, and then go out there and execute. For me, it’s all about match-winning knocks. Whether that’s getting 30 from 10 balls, which could set the game up by getting momentum into our innings, or 49 from 42 balls to get the game won, batting second. It’s what the team needs in a given situation.

How do you train?
My training is not focused on trying to hit every ball for four or six, it’s about getting myself into good positions, concentrating on the movement to do that. I tend to under-hit the ball in training, if anything. Then when you walk out you don’t have the confines of the nets and you can free yourself up. You have a lot more time out in the middle. Before going in, I tend to talk to people around me, chat about whatever, have a bit of a laugh – it helps keep me relaxed. Then, once I cross that white line, it’s time to switch on.

What’s your favourite shot?
At the moment it’s the pick-up off my hip – when the ball comes into me and I flick it over backward square for four or six.

Do you think you’re maturing as a cricketer?
I was told, growing up, that it’s only when you get to your late 20s you really get to know your game. I took that with a pinch of salt, but now here I am at 30 and it’s definitely true. Going into a series now, I know the amount of preparation I need to do or scouting of opposition bowlers. I know my game inside out, and it’s going really well. Now it’s about staying grounded and playing each game as if it’s my last, having fun and going from there.

What are your goals?
My number-one goal is to cement my place in the New Zealand one-day squad as an opener with Martin Guptill and get to the next World Cup. Then, if we go well in the World Cup, who knows what the future may hold?

What are you like away from the pitch?
I’m just a guy who likes to have fun – a bit of a joker, I guess. I enjoy a good laugh, and whether that’s at my own expense or someone else’s, it’s all good. If people remember me as a cricketer, that’s fine, but if it’s as a good bloke on and off the field, that would be even better. I’ve been with my wife Tehere since I was 17, before cricket, so she knows about all the ups and downs. When you’re young and trying to make your name, you immerse yourself in everything cricket, but it’s probably not the right way to go. You need to have some interests outside of sport, otherwise it can really consume you. My kids (Chloe, aged 3, and Connor, 2) don’t really know much about what Dad does, what’s gone on at cricket, if I’ve scored a hundred or a duck; they don’t care at the end of the day. You’re just Dad. I love being at home with them, and any opportunity I get to bring my family along on overseas trips I do as well. I probably have a lower profile socially. I don’t really go out a lot. I may have a few beers with the boys at the hotel bar, then I’ll be up to the room and let the boys head out and have a good time.

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