CPL

CPL 2021 takeaways: Points to Ponder

By Tony McWatt and Red Perreira October 03, 2021

The 2021 Caribbean Premier League (CPL), the 9th edition of “the biggest party in sports,” reached an exciting conclusion on Wednesday, September 15. After 32 matches had been played for the first time ever at a single venue, St Kitts’ Warner Park, it all came down to the Tournament final. The result of which was a thrilling, last ball three wickets win for the St Kitts Patriots over the St Lucia Kings.

As very keen observers of this year’s CPL having between us watched every single one of its 33 played matches, there were for us several discernible takeaways. The examination of which leaves plenty to ponder over.

First off was St Kitts’ highly laudable hosting of the entire tournament’s thirty-three matches at a single venue, the Warner Park stadium. Kudos of the very highest order are now deservedly due to the Curator and his ground staff, the Tournament Director and indeed everyone who was in any way involved in the hosting of such a very well organized and executed tournament as this year’s CPL was. Hats off also to all concerned for having managed the required Bio Bubble without incident and as well for getting the players and their attending family members in and out of St Kitts safely.

As successful as it was, St Kitts’ single venue CPL 2021 hosting should now fully open the door to the possibilities for other similarly equipped Caribbean territories to host future CPL tournaments. Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, and St Lucia can now be considered as CPL hosts following St Kitts’ conclusive demonstration, that the previously held conception that only countries with dual venues, a la Antigua, Jamaica, and Trinidad & Tobago would be suitable, is now no longer valid!

Regardless of where CPL’s future editions are actually held, there should also be a marked improvement in the tournament’s marketing. Despite the allowance of fully vaccinated fans to attend its matches, this year’s CPL spectator presence at Warner Park was noticeably and dismally low. The validity of CPL’s self-ordained billing as “the biggest party in sports,” becomes highly questionable if its matches are only being viewed by television audiences, albeit in their millions, but not actually by fans in the stands! Furthermore, a massive part of the excitement that is usually associated withT20 cricket is directly derived from the participating players being cheered on by adoring onsite spectators.

It therefore now behoves CPL’s owners to seriously consider the adoption of some far more aggressive and innovative marketing initiatives, as a means of addressing this year’s paucity of spectator attendees. Allowing school-aged children to attend matches free, while offering their accompanying parents half-priced admission tickets is one such innovative practice that should be considered.

Knowledgeable cricket fans are, however, typically only willing to part with their well-earned monies to purchase match tickets, if and when they are confident that doing so will result in their witnessing a relatively high standard of cricket. Unfortunately, the standard of the cricket played at this year’s CPL was disappointingly low.

The tournament’s overall statistics provide irrefutable evidence of the generally poor batting that was far too often on display. Among the top ten batsmen only two, Royston Chase (446) and Evan Lewis (426), scored over 400 runs from ten or more innings batted. No one else managed to score 300 runs in total and six of the top ten batsmen finished with tournament averages of less than 35 runs per innings.

The overall bowling wasn’t that much better either. The tournament-leading wicket hauls of the top three bowlers, Ravi Rampaul (19), Romario Shepherd(18), and Odean Smith (18) were accumulated from either 10, in the case of the former or 11 matches for the other two, at an average of fewer than two wickets per match! Not that impressive at all by even the lowest standards.

Finally, the ground fielding was at times almost amateurish. Some of the catching, particularly during the last two weeks was even worse. Abysmal being the most complimentary description worthy of the numerous rudimentary catches that were spilt!

Far too many of the umpiring decisions were also highly questionable. So much so that the CPL must now seriously consider its adoption of the two reviews per innings that has become standard within other T2o tournaments.

Despite the overall poor quality of cricket played there were, however, some very encouraging performances from a few exciting young, talented Caribbean-born cricketers. As a 26-year-old, Romario Shepherd’s 18 scalps as the tournament’s second-highest wicket-taker was highly encouraging. So too was the 23-year-old Dominic Drakes 16 wickets as a left-arm, impressively quick seamer. Drakes was also the hero of the St Kitts Patriots Championship Final victory, striking a boundary off the very last ball to exceed the three runs that were required for victory!

The 22-year-old Jevan Royal’s 12 wickets with his left-arm spin was yet another encouraging CPL 2021 performance. Among the batters, the 23-year-old Sherfayne Rutherford’s aggregate of 262 runs, including three half-centuries, from 10 innings batted was also impressive.

As the tournament’s 10th Anniversary next year’s 2022 edition will be as fitting an occasion as any for the CPL to now seriously consider increasing the number of its participating franchises from 6 to 8. T20’s marquee Indian Premier League has recently announced its own intended 2022 expansion from 8 to 10 teams, thereby setting a most worthy example for the CPL to follow.

Our suggestion would be for the CPL to explore the possibilities for the participation of franchises based in Florida and Toronto. The expanded 8 team tournament could then be played in two groups of four, with respective preliminary round home and away matches leading to semi-finals between the two top teams from each Group.

The 17 member respective rosters of the newly added Canadian and US franchises could also be comprised of nine local players, five who are Caribbean born and the remaining 3 being internationally based. In addition to providing both Canada and the USA with much-needed international T20 match exposure to a fair number (9) of their own local players, such a format would also allow similar exposure for 10 more West Indian cricketers. It will also most likely result in intense competition among the world’s very best T20 players for the remaining six available international spots.

Both Miami and Toronto are now replete with very rich cricket fanatical South Asian-born residents. Finding suitable and willing Owners for either franchise should not, therefore, be challenging. Neither should be enticing the respective franchises’ fans, likely to be in the thousands from among the resident Caribbean and South Asian communities, to actively support their teams with visits to the Caribbean as attending spectators of their away matches. Needless to say, the ensuing tourism bonanza would be highly beneficial and most welcome to the Caribbean hosting countries of all such matches.

Indeed, plenty for the CPL to ponder as it looks back on its concluded 2021 Season and forwards to 2022!

About The Writers:
Guyana-born, Toronto-based, Tony McWatt now serves as Cricket Canada’s Media Relations Manager. He is the Publisher of both the WI Wickets and Wickets monthly online cricket magazines that are respectively targeted towards the Caribbean and Canadian readers. He is also the only son of former Guyana and West Indies wicket-keeper batsman the late Clifford “Baby Boy” McWatt.

Guyana-born Reds (Perreira) has served as a world-recognized West Indies Cricket Commentator for well over fifty years. Reds made his broadcasting debut during the 1971 West Indies-India Test Series, and has commentated on hundreds of matches since then!

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  • T20 World Cup performances embarrassing to West Indies’ selectors T20 World Cup performances embarrassing to West Indies’ selectors

    Prior to the start of the 2021 ICC T20 World Cup, Cricket West Indies’ Facebook Page had labelled the West Indies team’s campaign to regain its title as the tournament’s reigning champions “Mission Maroon!” With two defeats and just one win, a highly squeaky last over three-run win over Bangladesh, the West Indies team’s Mission Maroon has for all intents and purposes become Mission Improbable, if not altogether impossible.

    The first three matches played by the West Indies have also been a major source of embarrassment to its Selectors both at home and at the actual tournament itself.

    Having accumulated just two points after its first three matches, the West Indies still has a mathematical chance of emerging as one of the two Group A teams that will progress to the tournament’s semi-final matches. In order to do so, the West Indies will have to win both of its remaining matches against Sri Lanka and Australia by very sizeable margins so as to ensure it has a better run rate than any of the other likely semi-final spot contenders. Sri Lanka, in its very close loss to South Africa, has indicated that it will not in any way be an easy pushover!

    Mission Improbable indeed, made even more so by the far superior performances to date from the likes of England, Australia, and even South Africa. Punctuated as they have been by much healthier run rates than that of the West Indies.

    The chances of the West Indies now progressing beyond the Super 6 and into the semi-finals now, therefore, seems highly unlikely. What has become far more of a very tangible reality is the embarrassment that has been caused to the West Indies Selectors, Chairman Roger Harper and his Panel, by the substandard performances to date from the very players whose selections to the squad were so highly controversial. Messrs Gayle and Rampaul in particular, have to date done absolutely nothing to justify the Selectors’ expressed faith in their respective abilities to perform with merit during the World Cup.

    Chris Gayle had celebrated his 42nd birthday on September 21, just weeks before the World Cup’s commencement. With his legendary skills as T20 cricket’s greatest ever batsman clearly in decline, as evidenced by repeated paltry scores in his most recent matches, Gayle’s inclusion in the West Indies 15 member World Cup Squad was discussed and debated throughout the entire Caribbean.

    The West Indies Selectors, as well as the team’s Coach, Captain and Vice-Captain who had all publicly voiced their respective outstanding support for Gayle’s inclusion would therefore have been hoping for him to have effectively silenced all his critics with some superlative batting performances in his World Cup appearances. His scores to date: 13, 12 and 4 in the three matches he’s played, can now only be regarded as a source of colossal embarrassment to all concerned.

    Much the same can also be said of Ravi Rampaul’s World Cup performances to date, the associated embarrassment factor for which has only been slightly less than Gayle’s. Rampaul was controversially selected to the West Indies World Cup Squad based on his 2021 Caribbean Premier League bowling. Rampaul’s World Cup performances to date have, however, confirmed the substantial gap between the batting skills of the West Indies’ opponents by comparison to those he would have encountered at this year’s CPL.

    Rampaul has to date taken 2 wickets at an average of 30.50 from his 9 overs bowled to date. His economy rate within those 9 overs has been a relatively unimpressive 6.77. Yet in their infinite and now obvious lack of wisdom, Messrs Harper and Co, chose him at 36 to be one of the West Indies bowling attack’s supposed leaders.

    As controversial as the West Indies’ Selectors final squad inclusion of both Gayle and Rampaul may have been, it was far less so than their non-inclusion of the ICC’s number one ranked Test all-rounder Jason Holder. To add further insult to injury, the Selectors’ also found it necessary to include Holder among the squad’s four travelling reserves.

    As fate would have it, Obed McCoy’s subsequent failure to recover fully from the shin splints he had suffered prior to the tournament, yet another source of embarrassment for the Selectors, eventually resulted in Holder replacing him on the squad just prior to the West Indies’ match against Bangladesh. An opportunity that Holder fully grasped with both of his very large hands.

    Included in the West Indies final XI for October 29 encounter, Holder struck two much-needed boundaries in a breezy cameo innings of 15 made off of just five balls which helped the West Indies to reach its eventual 20 over a total of 142-7. His economical bowling, which yielded 1/22-4, then helped restrict Bangladesh to 138/5-20 to give the West Indies its much-needed victory by just three runs.

    Holder’s height also proved crucial in his boundary-catching dismissal of Bangladesh’s top scorer Liton Das. Attempting to hit a six off the last delivery of Dwayne Bravo’s fourth and final over, the nineteenth of the innings, Das must have thought that he’d successfully cleared the boundary only to see, in absolute dismay, the ball being plucked out of the air by Holder’s extended hands.

    Holder’s outstanding performances with the bat, ball, and in the field during the Bangladesh encounter would have been an additional source of embarrassment to the Roger Harper led Selection Panel. It would also have undermined whatever level of joy they must have been feeling by the reported extension of their tenure by an additional two months. Scheduled to have ended this very month, the West Indies Selectors’ term of Office has again, reportedly, recently been extended to the end of December.

    As if to be consistent with the highly controversial decisions prior to the World Cup’s commencement, some of the West Indies final XI choices made for the matches played to date have been equally bizarre. Selected to the squad based on his outstanding CPL 2021 performances and has been the West Indies’ most outstanding batsman, with the only recorded half-century in either of the team’s two official warm-up matches, Roston Chase, was somehow not included in the final XI for the West Indies’ opening match encounter against England.

    Despite the West Indies having been bowled out for 55 by England, the Selectors still opted not to include Chase in the XI for its second match against South Africa. They chose instead to replace the injured McCoy a bowler with Hayden Walsh a leg-spinner.

    Having been so repeatedly embarrassed the West Indies’ Selectors, both at home and at the actual World Cup, will be hoping that their choices, particularly those of Gayle and Rampaul, will be vindicated by their outstanding performances in the remaining two matches and by also by the team’s progression into the semi-finals.

    If and when the latter fails to become a reality, however, Mission Maroon will have effectively become “marooned!”

  • Joao Felix thriving once again at Atletico after 2020-21 false dawn Joao Felix thriving once again at Atletico after 2020-21 false dawn

    When Joao Felix signed for Atletico Madrid in 2019, it's fair to say there were plenty who doubted it would be a happy marriage.

    Atletico shelled out €126million on the Portuguese talent who had taken the Primeira Liga by storm in his first season, scoring 15 times despite not even being in the Benfica first team when the campaign had begun.

    But how was this technical virtuoso going to fit into an Atletico side characterised by its work rate? How would he adapt to the demanding principles implemented by Diego Simeone?

    Maverick talents known more for their technical attributes than anything else had often been seen as Simeone's blind spot, hence some trepidation about whether he was the right man to nurture Joao Felix.

    The Portugal international's Atletico career has been a slow-burner, but once again there are signs he is beginning to find himself.

    Stuck in limbo

    Joao Felix had to miss the start of this season through injury, which was obviously not ideal, particularly given how 2020-21 ultimately turned out for him after a promising start.

    For a period last season, there were real signs that he was finding his feet. While he was not necessarily roaming as some might have envisaged, his role in the first half of 2020-21 – being more of a withdrawn forward towards the left – saw him become one of LaLiga's standout players.

    One theory was that Suarez's signing helped Joao Felix significantly. After all, the Uruguayan enjoyed a near-telepathic on-pitch relationship with Lionel Messi and has always boasted exceptional off-the-ball intelligence. He can make great players look even better.

     

    For example, prior to Atletico's 1-0 win over Barca at the Wanda Metropolitano on November 21 last year, Joao Felix had already created the same amount of chances for Suarez (four) as he had for anyone else in all of 2019-20.

    But he didn't manage to maintain his status as a standout player for the full season. Bouts of illness, injuries and a suspension all hampered him after the turn of the year as he made just five of his 14 league starts after January 1. In fact, his final total of starts was seven fewer than in 2019-20.

    A potential explanation for Joao Felix's disappointing form overall for Atletico was the lack of creativity in central areas behind him. While some might suggest Marcos Llorente's 11 assists in 2020-21 disproves that idea, the former Real Madrid man over-performed his expected assists (xA) by 5.6 – a figure unmatched across LaLiga, suggesting such productivity was not sustainable – while he also did a lot of his best work towards the right.

    There had undoubtedly been a major difference between how Joao Felix was used during his first two seasons at Atletico compared to his time with Benfica, where he was seen as more of a genuine striker.

    He averaged 2.5 shots per game in 2018-19 with Benfica, and although there wasn't a massive drop-off in his first season at the Wanda Metropolitano (2.4), his expected goals per shot slumped from 0.15 to 0.12. While that may not sound like a lot, it shows a clear indication that the quality of his chances decreased and therefore suggests his similar shot frequency was a result of poor decision-making.

     

    His xG per shot improved back up to 0.14 last term, though he was averaging just 1.26 shots each game, half as frequent as at Benfica.

    The fact his average number of touches in the box fell from 4.9 per appearance in 2018-19 to 2.7 the following season and then 2.0 last term further highlighted the different role he was adapting to and went some way to explaining why he was having fewer shots.

    Certain transfer window additions – especially Antoine Griezmann and Matheus Cunha – had some fans concerned for Joao Felix, given they were likely to be in direct competition with him for places.

    Some felt his future was in a more deep-lying role as part of the central midfield trio, but recently he has excelled in a similar playmaking function but further up the pitch. Suddenly it has him looking like the Joao Felix we all knew was in there somewhere.

    Rising to the challenge

    Following an uncharacteristic recruitment drive for technical players in the most recent transfer window, a key buzzword around Atletico was 'balance'. Preserving balance in the team was going to be a major focus for Simeone as he looked to truly maximise what is arguably the most talented squad he's had as a coach.

    At the moment, it appears to be working well, and Joao Felix seems to be nicely suited to the set-up that's being deployed.

    Simeone is favouring the use of a front three that is spearheaded by Suarez, with Joao Felix to the left and Griezmann towards the right.

    The roles of Joao Felix and Griezmann allow them a certain flexibility. They can go down the outside, but with the use of wing-backs there's not a necessity, therefore Atletico can really overload teams in the final third when the likes of Kieran Trippier and Yannick Carrasco are overlapping out wide.

    This appears to suit Joao Felix in particular, and he has thrived in an advanced playmaker role against Real Sociedad and Levante over the past week.

     

    Now, it's worth noting that Joao Felix was at fault for La Real's first goal in last weekend's 2-2 draw, but he played a similarly important role in ensuring Atletico fought back, his neat and intricate play in possession a real asset.

    He was involved in 41 open-play passing sequences in that match, second only to Koke among Atletico midfielders and forwards. Given it's a metric that tends to be dominated by defenders and central midfielders, Joao Felix's high involvement here speaks to his significant influence.

    He was then involved in 44 such sequences against Levante – again, Koke was the only midfielder or forward to be more influential in Atletico's build-up play than Joao Felix.

    But there has been more substance to his performances than just build-up involvement – he seems to be relishing the attacking responsibility he has, and there's a certain maturity to be gleaned from that.

    For example, it would have been quite easy for Joao Felix to go back inside his shell after coughing up possession in the lead-up to La Real's first goal, but he continued to demand the ball and drive at the defence.

    His 22 ball carries was four more than any other midfielder or forward in that game, and there was such positivity in his movement in possession – he progressed 137.5 metres upfield with the ball, at least 45.8m more than any other non-defender on the pitch.

     

    These often brought him inside as well as down the wing, from where he caused numerous problems and even set up Suarez's first goal with a gorgeous cross.

    Joao Felix's output was then almost identical against Levante, with his carry progress increasing to 140.6m upfield, which was again a match-high among non-defenders, while his 21 overall carries was second only to Koke's 27 in that same group of players.

    There are undoubtedly those who will remain unconvinced given he has had only one goal involvement (that assist against La Real) in five league games this season, so why are these figures important?

    Well, Joao Felix's prominence in Atletico's build-up shows the influence he's beginning to exert. That, coupled with the positive nature – and frequency – of his ball carries, suggests he's finally found his niche in this team. He's injecting direction and purpose to their attacks.

    Obviously, in an ideal world he will manage to add plenty of goals and assists as well in the long run, but for the moment the important thing for Joao Felix is that he finds continuity and consistency.

    He looked to have been on the right path this time last year before a complicated second half to 2020-21 – hopefully for his sake this isn't another false dawn.

  • 'Punjab decision to drop Gayle from line-up for birthday shocking claims Pietersen 'Punjab decision to drop Gayle from line-up for birthday shocking claims Pietersen

    Former England captain turned cricket analyst Kevin Pietersen has expressed surprise at the decision by Punjab Kings XI to legendary West Indian batsman Chris Gayle out of the line-up on his birthday.

    The iconic ball-beater turned 42 on Tuesday but could only watch from the bench as the team fell to a 2 runs loss to Rajasthan Royals.  The West Indian has managed 178 runs in 8 matches, with an average of 25.42.  The average is the fourth-best on the team, but on Tuesday the Kings opted for Aiden Markham at the third place in the line-up, which Gayle has been occupying since last season.

    Pietersen admits he found the situation to be an unusual one.

       "There will be some questions asked. I don’t understand why you would leave Chris Gayle out on his birthday,” Pietersen said on Star Sports.

    “If there was one game you were going to play him, it was this one. If he failed then you say ‘ok, you can have a bit of rest’. So, I can’t understand the thinking at all," he added.

    Gayle has been selected for the West Indies T20 squad for next month’s ICC World T20, the appearance will mark his 7th at the global tournament.