At an almost private dinner in central London last month, Jamaica’s minister for tourism and entertainment, Wykeham McNeill, was waxing lyrical about the sunny outlook for Caribbean economies. What made him so optimistic, I asked? “Haven’t you heard?”, he said. “The Caribbean Premier League.”
I think he meant it. The Caribbean’s answer to the IPL has aroused more feverish anticipation than almost any sporting launch since, well, the IPL. Administrators of the six-team, franchise-based event, which runs from 29 July to 26 August, have attached a significance to it roughly commensurate with the Second Coming. At a glitzy promotional event in February, attended by Clive Lloyd and Sirs Garfield Sobers and Everton Weekes, some boasted it would “bring celebrity appeal from Hollywood, Bollywood and local and international musical talent”.
Alas, this being the Caribbean, it’s gone wrong before the first ball is bowled. The author of the above quote is one Ajmal Khan, chairman and chief executive of Verus International, a merchant bank based in Barbados and New York, which paid a reported £13m over 20 years for rights to the CPL.
This week, the Central Bank of Barbados (CBB) issued a warning about Verus, saying: “The [CBB] warns the public that Verus International is not licensed to engage in merchant banking or any other activity regulated by the Central Bank of Barbados, or within Barbados. Members of the public who transact with Verus International do so at their own risk.” If Verus are the backers of the tournament, any fan buying a ticket is in effect “transacting” with it.
To say the CPL is in full-blown crisis is to stretch things – but not by much. Naturally, the whole thing could blow over; or Verus and the CBB could settle their differences. But that we have even got to this position, where serious doubts and anxieties about the fate of the CPL are now being harboured, is appalling, because there is far too much at stake.
Even just a few years ago, it wasn’t fanciful to talk of cricket in the Caribbean disappearing altogether, thanks to incompetent administrators and the march of American sports such as baseball and basketball which vie for the attention of tomorrow’s Brian Laras and Michael Holdings. But after a flushing out of cronyism, and with an extraordinary West Indies victory in the Twenty20 World Cup, Caribbean cricket has stormed back of late.
The CPL could help to complete that journey. It won’t have the impact of the IPL, as the crowds and profits are smaller. But it will bring Caribbean cricket to international attention for the first time, really, since the 1980s. For the sake of cricket fans everywhere, then, Verus and the CBB should end their silly row and get on with the serious business of a cricket tournament. If old Ajmal doesn’t drink rum, order him something else.
Samuels cleans up his act
For cricket to survive in the Caribbean, it will need heroes. After Chris Gayle, they don’t come much better right now than Marlon Samuels.
Plucked from obscurity as the most talented of four brothers, Samuels promised much when he made his Test debut at 19. But a dodgy off-break action, and an average of 29 with the bat over 29 Tests in eight years, threatened to consign him to the ranks of legendary “if-onlys” – not least when he was found guilty of links with a Dubai-based bookmaker in 2007.
But then something extraordinary happened. Samuels stopped drinking, took up yoga, and worked tirelessly at his game. The result is a world-class batsman, who almost single-handedly won that Twenty20 World Cup for his country and who, through the Marlon Samuels Foundation, is raising extraordinary sums for the poor and needy.
Samuels is in many ways a perfect foil for Gayle. While the latter Gangnam-styles his way to international stardom on YouTube, Samuels is leading the slow, patient recovery of calypso cricket.