Continuity pays off for TKR
One of the most amazing things about Trinbago Knight Riders' third CPL title in the space of four seasons is how they've done it, by virtue of a settled core to maintain team chemistry. The draft and auction regulations for many of the world's T20 franchise leagues can lead to excessive chopping and changing from season to season, making some teams unrecognizable from one season to the next, but that hasn't been the case for the Knight Riders.
Twelve squad members who took the field during their 2017 title run were back again in 2018. When newcomers were forced to be chosen, due to the unavailability of Shadab Khan and Ronsford Beaton, management chose their replacements shrewdly as Fawad Ahmed and Ali Khan were the team's top two wicket-takers in 2018, helping TKR to repeat as champions. Unsurprisingly, the team with the second-fewest changes - Guyana Amazon Warriors with nine players retained - was TKR's opponent in the final, showing the value of keeping faith in a strong nucleus.
Associate stars shining bright
The CPL has been a trailblazing league when it comes to offering opportunities to Associate players. Since the 2016 season, there has been a mandate to draft at least one North American player from an Associate country as part of the squad. That commitment to helping develop players beyond the Test world continues bearing fruit.
USA's Timroy Allen was the main beneficiary in 2016, serving as a key role player in six matches for the champion Jamaica Tallawahs. Steven Taylor had been part of Barbados Tridents squad as an ICC Americas pick for Barbados Tridents before parlaying exposure from the Regional Super50 into a handsome USD 30,000 contract in 2017 with Guyana Amazon Warriors, while Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi also fetched high-priced draft slots for Guyana and St Kitts & Nevis Patriots respectively before Afghanistan got Test status later in the year.
In 2018, Nepal's Sandeep Lamichhane and USA's Khan continued the trend in spectacular style. Lamichhane was one of the standout bowlers over the first two weeks of the tournament, taking seven wickets in five matches with a sparkling 6.23 economy rate. Forget Associate status, few from any country were better than Khan for TKR this season as he finished joint-third with 16 wickets, vaulting him to the top tier of bowlers in demand for 2019.
Russell stands up for Jamaica
Tallawahs captain, and very proud Jamaican, Andre Russell earned himself plenty of brownie points in his homeland when he stated in no uncertain terms what he thought of team ownership's decision to shift home games from Sabina Park to the Central Broward Regional Park (CBRP) in Florida. Following the first of what would be three straight "home" losses in Florida, Russell went on full blast to slam the decision to play those games away from Jamaica, essentially conceding home-field advantage.
Tallawahs won two matches in front of sellout weeknight crowds of 15,000 at Sabina Park. When Russell and his charges moved to Florida later that weekend to finish off their home slate, they were greeted by hostile crowds, heavily in favour of Amazon Warriors and TKR. Their final match was played in an eerily quiet setting with just 700 fans in attendance to see Tallawahs lose in stunning fashion to Barbados Tridents, despite seven wickets in hand.
It was hard to tell which was a worse atmosphere was for Tallawahs in Florida, the roar of the opposition fans in the first two games or pin-drop silence through the third. Regardless, Russell and team owners - Worldwide Sports Management Group - may have a tricky decision to make this offseason in light of WSMG's agreement with the CBRP guaranteeing at least three major cricket events at the stadium per year. If Russell has his way, the CPL may go back to using Lauderhill as a neutral site venue, shared equally by teams as it was in 2016 and 2017, rather than a "home" away from home for Tallawahs.
Sandpapergate curse continues
The summer of franchise barnstorming for Steven Smith and David Warner has not gone as planned for either player. Smith was a headline selection in the inaugural season of the Global T20 Canada, but his Toronto Nationals side finished in last place. His presence in the Barbados Tridents side produced equally dismal results as the 2014 champions continued their streak of missing the playoffs for a third consecutive year, notching just two wins to finish with the wooden spoon in CPL 2018, and Smith himself missed the end of the tournament due to injury.
Warner had a horrid time with the bat playing for Winnipeg Hawks in Canada, but at least he could say that his team made the playoffs. However, in the CPL, another wretched start for St Lucia Stars doomed them to miss the playoffs for the second year in a row, and Warner only managed one half-century in his nine innings. Perhaps his most significant contribution was highlighting how poor the umpiring was at times during the league phase as his glove-before-wicket dismissal provided an early catalyst for DRS to be brought in for the semi-final and final.
DRS for 2019
At least a dozen doozies were missed by the umpiring crews during this season. CPL administrators finally conceded that the issue had become an epidemic when the decision was made to use DRS technology for the semi-final and final. Even that was a curious call as it meant the first half of playoff matches in Guyana were without it, which cost TKR in their qualifier loss to Amazon Warriors when a pair of lbw decisions against Brendon McCullum and Denesh Ramdin inside the Powerplay stood a very high probability of being overturned.
The IPL and PSL have already instituted DRS across the entire season. Bringing DRS in for the last two matches of the CPL 2018 playoffs was a positive step forward. Instituting it for the entire season in CPL 2019 will be even better.