4:20 AM ET
Peter Della PennaCricket
What is the CPL?
The Caribbean Premier League is a six-team franchise T20 competition that's perhaps better than England's T20 Blast but not quite as big as the IPL. From a quality and entertainment perspective, it's about on par with Australia's Big Bash League.
More than anything, what makes the CPL unique from other T20 competitions is Caribbean flair. It's not just Dwayne Bravo who is dancing after each wicket. The league is filled with crowd-pleasing entertainers, and that infectious energy spreads into the stands where the support is reinforced by soca, reggae, calypso and other island beats.
Each of the six teams plays each other twice, five games each home and away (with the exception of the four neutral-venue games in Florida). The top four teams qualify for the playoffs in Trinidad & Tobago.
CPL Draft v IPL Auction
Unlike the IPL auction, where players go to the highest-bidding franchise, the CPL uses a player-draft system modelled on American sports franchises. Each draft slot has a fixed salary; players taken in the first round get US $160,000, fifth-round picks make $70,000, all the way down to $4000 for the final selections in the 15th round.
Squads have the choice to retain players from previous seasons or release them back into the draft pool. They also must pick an ICC Americas player from either USA or Canada, who are not considered overseas players, as well as an Under-19 West Indies player to round out their 17-man squads.
As teams are only allowed a maximum of four overseas players in the XI, most franchises carry no more than five overseas players in their squad. So, unlike in the IPL, where overseas stars can be picked at will to boost the bench, CPL franchises are much more judicious in their overseas draft picks. If you get a dud, it's far more difficult to swap them because there may only be one overseas player waiting on the bench and one who is not necessarily a like-for-like skillset swap.
Where do the teams stand?
The defending champions are relying more on brain than brawn, after a major revamp in the offseason. Chris Gayle and Chadwick Walton, their openers and two leading scorers, are gone, while Andre Russell, the player of the previous season, is still serving his one-year ban for a doping-code violation.
Lendl Simmons was tipped to fill part of the opening void after coming over from St Kitts & Nevis Patriots, while Kumar Sangakkara was retained to provide stability in the top order and behind the stumps. Coach Paul Nixon places high value on players with a winning mentality, and few fit that description more heading into this season than Imad Wasim, who was part of the victorious Pakistan side in the Champions Trophy earlier in the year.
Imad forms a three-man left-arm spin attack, along with Shakib Al Hasan and Garey Mathurin, as they focus on building pressure by choking the scoring rate. Kesrick Williams was taken in the 13th round in the 2016 draft for just $5,000, but after topping his team's bowling charts with 17 wickets, has earned a pay rise to $30,000. Another good season should attract the attention of other overseas leagues.
Guyana Amazon Warriors
Three times a bridesmaid, but never the bride. Guyana topped the table at the end of the league stage last year, but with Martin Guptill leaving for New Zealand duty, they were walloped in the final by Jamaica to fall short of the title for the third time in four years.
Guyana were dealt a major blow on the eve of the tournament when their leading scorer of 2016, Chris Lynn, was ruled out of the season due to upcoming shoulder surgery. He has been replaced by the up-and-coming Pakistan batsman Babar Azam, while the batting order has been injected with fresh blood in the form of Chadwick Walton and USA captain Steven Taylor, who is expected to take on a bigger role after limited opportunities in his two years with Barbados Tridents.
The Australian Adam Zampa, last season's leading spinner, is no longer with the side. In most cases, any replacement would be considered a downgrade, but the arrival of Afghanistan legspinner Rashid Khan may be what this side needs to clear the final hurdle and claim their first title.
St Lucia Stars
Formerly called the Zouks, the Stars received a double-blow ahead of their first match when their top two picks, David Miller and Lasith Malinga, withdrew. In their places is a pair of New Zealanders, Mitchell McClenaghan and Jesse Ryder.
In the past, Ryder was as capable of imploding as he was of exploding on the opposition. If he can rediscover his peak form, it will go a long way toward ensuring the Stars return to the playoffs for the second year in a row. Johnson Charles and Andre Fletcher formed the most consistently destructive opening combination of CPL 2016, but with the exception of Shane Watson, struggled to find support down the order. That will need to change for sustained success.
Trinbago Knight Riders
The 2015 champions are the most settled of the six squads, with the tournament's leading wicket-taker, Dwayne Bravo, supported by fellow returnees Kevon Cooper and Sunil Narine. Outside of Rashid, Knight Riders may have plucked the best acquisition of the offseason by drafting Pakistan legspinner Shadab Khan in the eighth round for $30,000.
On the batting front, Knight Riders will have to endure the early-season absence of Hashim Amla, their leading scorer from 2016, while South Africa's Test series continues in England. Brendon McCullum will have to pick up the slack in Amla's absence and will be keen to bounce back after a subpar 2016 season.
After winning the title in 2014 and losing in the final in 2015, Tridents missed the playoffs for the first time in 2016. AB de Villiers finished as their second-highest scorer despite playing just six games, and they have addressed the top-order deficiency by revamping the batting.
Dwayne Smith was brought over from Amazon Warriors, while the CPL's most high-profile batting newcomer, Kane Williamson, was snapped up in the second round for $130,000. Twin legspinners Imran Khan and Damion Jacobs provide captain Kieron Pollard with attacking options in the field.
St Kitts & Nevis Patriots
This side has undergone the biggest facelift during the offseason in a bid to change their fortunes, having finished with at least a share of the last place in every season. Gayle was the most high-profile acquisition, and despite a poor IPL, he still possesses the intimidation factor that Patriots lacked in the past. If he clicks, Gayle and Evin Lewis may give Patriots a lethal opening combination.
The bigger changes, though, were made in the bowling, which was the weakest of any side last year despite having one of the top T20 bowlers in the world in Samuel Badree. Hasan Ali, the Man of the Tournament in the Champions Trophy, and Afghanistan allrounder Mohammad Nabi are new additions, while the $130,000 big ticket item Chris Morris will enhance the bowling further when he arrives after the end of South Africa's tour of England.
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