Ambitious plans to expand globally – quickly and efficiently – remains at the fore of tournament CEO Damien O’Donohoe’s jam-packed agenda, as the third edition of the ever-evolving Caribbean Premier League roars into action.
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Indian Premier League franchise Kolkata Knight Riders’ stake in Trinidad and Tobago Red Steel and aspirations of organising fixtures in both the USA and UAE, embody the Irishman’s bid to have the event both recognised and respected on the world stage.
When it comes to taking the game global, the CPL has plenty of positive examples to follow. IPL fixtures were held in the UAE in 2014 and South Africa in 2009, while the former has been Pakistan’s adopted home for the last six years and New Zealand and Sri Lanka met for a Twenty20 International series in Florida in 2010. The West Indies, too, have played in the east coast region.
“The new relationship between Kolkata and Trinidad and Tobago just goes to show how much our brand has developed over the last couple of years. We spoke to KKR in year one and we made some big promises. KKR and, for that matter, many others didn’t think we could deliver. I think we have delivered now, ensuring a very successful tournament,” O’Donohoe told Sport360.
“America has also has always been on our horizon. There’s the Central Broward Regional Park Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, where we plan to host some games – and perhaps at some other locations. Maybe we will do the opening games in Dubai, which we have spoken to the Dubai Sports Council about.”
Higher profile than domestic T20 competitions in South Africa, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and England, but admittedly inferior – in status and budget – to Australia’s Big Bash League, the CPL boasts plenty of unique elements while confidently emulating those already successful elsewhere.
— Shoaib Malik (@realshoaibmalik) June 18, 2015
Geographically and patriotically, though, tournaments built out of a conglomerate of Australian states, English counties, South African provinces or Indian territories can’t trump the value of six relatively closely knit countries competing for bragging rights across the Caribbean.
“The BBL organisers have done a wonderful job, with their television production some of the best I have ever seen. There is a lot of learning to be had from them. A huge portion of the BBL audience is women and children and we try to implement the same. Their numbers were up 40 percent last year, which is a big success,” O’Donohoe explains.
“Those guys are leaders in their field. Like in any business, you look at guys in the same field as you and learn from them. That’s only going to help the game, T20 in particular. We don’t have as much money as them, our salary caps are substantially smaller, but we look to make our offering a little bit different.
“We firmly believe that T20 cricket’s home is in the Caribbean. It’s about the entertainment, the dressing up, the carnival atmosphere, the cricket, the whole package. That’s what makes the CPL so special and differentiates it from the others. Cricket is like a religion in the Caribbean. When you go to a CPL game, it’s an experience like no other.”
While the tournament is lined with the cosmopolitan services of Pakistan quartet Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal, Sohail Tanvir and Shoaib Malik, New Zealand trio Daniel Vettori, Martin Guptill and Nathan McCullum, South African pair Jacques Kallis and David Wiese and more, O’Donohoe concedes his innovation might never extend as far as the recruitment of, say, MS Dhoni or Virat Kohli.
Have popped over to the party stand. pic.twitter.com/7akjcFRKk6
— Peter Miller (@TheCricketGeek) June 25, 2015
A successful mutual relationship with the England and Wales Cricket Board, however, could be necessitated by staging the CPL three or four months later than its prevailing midyear bracket. The UK’s Natwest T20 Blast runs from 15 May to 29 August, while its Caribbean counterpart currently occurs between 20 June and 26 July, resulting in an inhibiting overlap, leaving Kevin Pietersen the lone Englishman in the CPL.
“We spent time at the IPL this year and have very close relationships with some of the key figures in that competition. We work closely with them, as much as we can, but Indian players really are a different affair. But we have had talks with the ECB because we can see the benefit for the English players and the players from the Caribbean,” says O’Donohoe.
“We are talking with the West Indies Cricket Board and the ECB about possibly moving our tournament window to October. If we did that, it would open us up to the English market of fans and players.”
Until then, O’Donohoe and his shiny new product continue to punch above its weight and bring a true identity to the CPL that embraces all the colour and carnival of the Caribbean to great effect.
Shahid Afridi always relished being Pakistan’s hero with bat or ball but such is the nature of the man, the role of T20 gun for hire is also a cap that fits him just fine.
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With his attacking approach to the game it is not surprising that having retired from the ODI arena after the World Cup, he is a much sought-after commodity in T20 cricket.
Fresh from a short-term stint with Northamptonshire in England, the 35-year-old has now arrived in the West Indies to play for the St Kitts & Nevis Patriots in the Carribean Premier League, where he spoke to Sport360 on the eve of their first match against Barbados tridents on Friday.
It comes a month after a landmark moment for Afridi and the rest of Pakistan as they hosted internationals for the first time at home since the terrorist attacks of 2009, with a series against Zimbabwe. “That was a great occasion for me, especially as a captain. The people enjoyed it and for all five games the crowd was full and that was a big moment,” Afridi said.
“It was very special for the Pakistan people. All credit goes to the cricket board and especially to the Zimbabwean government and the Zimbabwean cricket board. I think they took a brave decision and they really supported us on a difficult situation.”
The next time Afridi will be on the global stage will be the World T20 in India next year, where he will captain Pakistan. “I am leading the team and that will be my last World T20. My foundation’s tagline is ‘hope is not out’. I am always hoping for the best and I think we have a very good combination,” he added.
“We have some very good and talented guys that we tried out against Zimbabwe and we are going to do some more experiments. Then Before the World T20 I have already told the selection committee that I don’t want any changes in the team from 3 months before it starts.”
Towards the end of his international career in the longer forms of the game, Afridi became infamous for retiring only to then make a spectacular return to action. You can therefore forgive Pakistan fans for hoping to perhaps see him back in the 50-over or Test side.
Afridi, however, is content with a style of the game tailor-made for his flamboyance and desire for action out in the middle. When asked if he’ll be back in a Pakistan ODI shirt any time soon, he replied: “I enjoyed the last 20 years of playing one day cricket, so I don’t want to give a chance to a selection committee to think about me.
“I know myself and I think I know how my body is feeling. I am doing a lot of charity work so I want to give time to that as well. I think I am happy playing Twenty20 and this is not an age to take a lot of pressure.”
Since the end of the World Cup results have been poor for Pakistan in the ODI format. Three straight defeats at the hands of Bangladesh were followed by two victories over Zimbabwe. Afridi accepts his and Misbah ul-Haq’s retirement has hit the team hard, while it will take time for new captain Azhar Ali to become accustomed to the role.
Afridi though is also a man to look forward, rather than back. He insists he is not concerned about the quality of the national team but believes domestic cricket in Pakistan needs to improve.
“I think obviously after my retirement, and Misbah-ul-Haq as well, so two senior guys have retired. But I think we should focus on the new talent,” he said.
“But I am not really worried about the national team I am just worried about the domestic cricket. Domestic cricket should be very good, this is more important for our Pakistan team.”
Of the current Green Shirts, Afridi has been impressed by the recent form of Yasir Shah who took seven wickets in the first Test against Sri Lanka, however, at the same time he urges caution with the 29-year-old yet to be fully tested on tracks away from the sanctity and familiarity of the subcontinent.
“Yasir Shah has really done well in the sub-continent but we will see if in any series he will play outside of Asia like in England, South Africa or Australia and we will see how he is going to perform there. But he is full of talent and a capable bowler.”
Bowling is an aspect of the game intrinsically linked with Pakistan, a fact evidenced by Afridi’s origins as a specialist spinner before his big-hitting attributes were discovered almost by accident.
Quicks Fazal Mahmood, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar and Abdul Qadir plus Saqlain Mushtaq, Mushtaq Ahmed and Iqbal Qasim in the spin department; these men represent not just Pakistan greats but some of the finest bowlers of all time.
However, in recent years the discipline has been hit hard, with Mohammad Aamer’s ban for spot-fixing while the country’s leading strike weapon in Test and one-day cricket, Saeed Ajmal, has been dogged by problems of the legitimacy of his action and has played just three matches of international cricket this year.
“I think this is not an issue just with the Pakistani team, there is other issues with other teams as well,” added Afridi. “But I think if someone starts his cricket career then the ICC should take a decision at that time.
“If someone played, like Saeed Ajmal, he played like six or seven years and become our number one bowler and then he was called.
“So I think if anything is wrong, take a decision at the start of his career.”
For someone who has done so much for one-day cricket, both for Pakistan and overseas, it’s a shame Afridi could never translate that to the purest and longest form of the game. His Test statistics barely register with just 27 matches played.
Asked if he regretted not having more success in Test cricket, his response is typically Afridi: “I think Test cricket, they gave me a chance very late, after I had played 55 or 60 ODIs and when I started I performed really well but they didn’t have me as a consistent player. Sometimes they pick me, sometimes they drop me and after that I was very bored.
“Five days in the ground, that was boring for me so I said, ‘no man, that’s it’. Every day is a beautiful day.”
With that Afridi produced a big smile and wandered back to the pool at his hotel. As the St Lucia sun glistened on the water, you could understand his point.
Sri Lanka meet Pakistan in the second of the three-Test series at Colombo. You can follow all the action LIVE through Sport360's Match Centre.
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After failing to hold fort at Galle and stumbling to the spin wizardry of Yasir Shah, Sri Lanka will be looking to avenge the loss against Pakistan at the P Sara Oval.
Pakistan will be hoping for the likes of Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez and Azhar Ali to perform with the bat in this Test. They failed to play a big role in the first innings at Galle. It was left to Younis Khan, Shafiq and Sarfraz to play their part.
Sri Lanka have a lot of changes to be made. Kumar Sangakkara has to lead from the front, while skipper Angelo Mathews will be hoping that the hosts’ batting line-up does not stumble like it did in Galle.
It will be interesting to see whether Misbah is able to inspire another Test victory or Sri Lanka bounce back in what could be Sangakkara’s final Test at the venue.