Tony Becca, Contributor
The inaugural Caribbean Premier League T20 has come and gone and congratulations to the Jamaica Tallawahs for becoming the first-time winners of the popular attraction, the cricket carnival, the spectacular billed as the "biggest party in sports."
The party, even more than the winners, will be serenaded in these parts, maybe elsewhere around the world, for a long time to come - at least until next year this time, God's willing.
The semi-finals and the final of the CPL was played last week at Queen's Park Oval, and as it was in the preliminary round at Kensington Oval, at Providence, at QPO, at Beausejour, at the Sir Viv Richards Stadium, and at Sabina Park, it was something to remember.
The crowds were enormous, the atmosphere was electric, and the cricket, T20 style, with names at the start like Muttiah Muralitharan, Ricky Ponting, and Chis Gayle, was exciting throughout.
For many years, for many moons, the stadiums around the West Indies, especially in Jamaica, were like white elephants. They were abandoned by the people and there were empty seats and empty stands to be everywhere.
Bursting at the seams
The coming of the CPLT20, however, promised many things, and although many of the world's best players, especially in T20 cricket, were absent, at least at the start, as far as entertainment was concerned, as far as the carnival spirit went, it really and truly packed in the people match after match until, in the final matches of the penultimate round at Sabina Park, it was, so to speak, bursting at the seams.
It was, as they used to say in the old days, in the days when the ground capacity was smaller and the people used to attend cricket matches, "it was cork, cork to the brim".
Grandfathers and grandmothers, fathers and mothers, and sons and daughters were present to listen to the drums and the music, to see the dancing girls, to wave their flags, and to blow their horns each time a run was scored, a diving stop was made, a four was hit, a batsman was dismissed, or the ball was sent sailing high and way beyond the boundary.
It also was good to see, for a change, people with their flags walking and talking as they made their way from Sabina Park up South Camp Road going into Cross Roads after the matches.
And it was no different at Queen's Park Oval in the semi-finals and final where, apart from the skill of Gayle, Kerron Pollard, Dwayne Smith, Lendl Simmons. Sunil Narine, Andre Russell, Muralitheran, Shakib Al Hasan, and Vernon Philander in the preliminary rounds, the fans turned out to see a few more international ambassadors of the short game, the likes of Kumar Sangakkara, Tilakaratne Dilshan, and Lasith Malinga, among many others.
Many people turned out to the games because of the carnival atmosphere, but if that was so, they got more than they bargained for - much more.
The things which tickled their imagination were the fast pace of the T20 game, the swift running towards the ball, the acrobatic fielding and the brilliant catches, the fours, streaky or not, and the big hits for towering sixes, whether off the back foot over long on, over midwicket, or over to square leg, or the front foot drive, or swing, which deposited the ball way beyond the boundary.
Apart from the dancing girls, the music, and the social side of things, the fact that people, because of curiosity, attracts more people, also were part of what pulled in the people.
Gayle, who has always been a fan of the T20 game, did his skill, and his power, justice two Sunday afternoons ago when he put his fingerprints on the success of the tournament with a superlative innings when, once again, he entertained his fans to a feast of power hitting.
The big left-hander turned up the thrills for the fans with 51 runs off 24 deliveries with five sixes and four fours, including three sixes and one four off one over from Dwayne Bravo.
Sabina Park was rocking when Gayle got out and strolled towards the pavilion.
With so many catches, so many sixes, and so many exciting finishes to cheer earlier on in the tournament, the final two matches, with the Guyana Amazon Warriors clipping the Antigua Hawksbills off the last ball of the match in Antigua, and the Tallawahs doing likewise to the Red Steel in Kingston, were fitting climaxes to the preliminary round.
It was good for the fans. And semi-finals and the final were no exceptions.
The question today is, why was the CPLT20 so successful?
The answer to that must be planning, giving the people what the people wanted, and marketing.
With the absence of some big names earlier on, and only Gayle, Pollard, Marlon Samuels, Narine, and Darren Sammy, possibly only Mohammad Hafeez, Misbah Ul-Haq, Shoaib Malik, Ross Taylor, Martin Guptil, and Philander, along with the retired pair of Mulitharan and Ponting on show - and later on Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Malinga joining up - it is certainly not because of the presence of international stars.
On top of that, apart from two innings by Misbah and Shoaib, one by Hafeez, one by Kevin O'Brien, and one marvellous spell of bowling by Shakib, mostly all the performances were by local players.
The music, the dancing girls, and the price of admission were big reason for the success of the tournament.
The CPLT20 has been a god-sent to the West Indies, and West Indies cricket should say thanks once again to the owners, to Ajmal Khan, for coming up with the idea, for investing the cash into West Indies cricket, for encouraging companies like Limacol, Digicel, El Dorado, Courts, Scotiabank, Foska Oats, and Appleton to come on board, and for having the foresight and the faith in the West Indian people to do so.
The CPLT20 promised to show the world how the West Indies play the game, and although it may have done so, even if it did not need to have done so, it really and truly showed the world the way of life of the people, and how the people enjoy themselves.
The fun of CLT20, in contrast to World Cup 2007, was encouraged, it was unrestricted, and therefore the CPLT20 was enjoyed by the fans.
Cricket, in many ways, was secondary to the carnival atmosphere.