I don't remember learning how baseball, football, or basketball were played. I had been exposed to American sports at such an early age that they were just part of my DNA. It was like knowing how to walk or how to eat. By the time I was cognitively aware of being a functioning little dude in a world full of other people, I already knew what a three-and-two-count was and what it meant when it was second-down-and-four-from-the-twenty-eight. Cricket was a different story. I didn't grow up with it and, as Americans, we were conditioned to believe that it was this arcane, inscrutable game played by stodgy Englishman.
As a result, I remember exactly where I was when I first "got" cricket. In fact, it was about twelve feet from where I'm typing this right now. One World Sports, which later became Eleven Sports, used to show all sorts of oddball things. (I remember being really psyched that they showed Yomiuri Giants games from the Japanese baseball league.) One early summer night in 2016 as I was shutting down my fitness studio, they were showing Caribbean Premier League cricket. I didn't expect to enjoy it other than for absurdist reasons. But then a guy hit a long fly ball to a guy in a green uniform. The guy caught it and then he and the rest of his team started to celebrate.
Stripped of the whispering announcers, prep school white sweaters, and strange blood-red ball, cricket actually made sense to me. I subscribed to some streaming service that would let me watch the games at home, and I was hooked. Cricket no longer looked like this…
There was no stodginess. Instead, there was Sheldon Cottrell saluting every time he took a wicket. There was Kesrick Williams taking an imaginary notebook out of his pocket and checking off the names of each guy he put out. There was Chris Gayle being Chris Gayle. The players were fun, the games were fun, and -- as I learned when I went to Lauderhill, Florida to watch a couple of the games the CPL played in the states -- the crowds were fun. (The crowds were REALLY fun.)
I've since learned to appreciate all forms of cricket and have probably watched more cricket than just about any other sport over the past few years. (It helps that it's played 12 months a year.) But there's something special about the CPL.
Most of the cricket that I watch isn't really aimed at me, which should come as no real surprise. If cricket fans in the states happen to be able to catch a match, it's only because we're lucky enough to be in the right latitudinal place on Earth at the right time. That's it. We're just fortunate that primetime in India happens when it's 10:00 am or so here on the east coast.
While the CPL may not have the level of talent of the IPL, it does offer something that no other cricket franchise league or international tournament does -- start times that make it available and accessible to most sports fans in this country. There's something very cool about being able to wrap up a day's work, grab a beer, and watch live top-level cricket from the comfort of the couch with the windows open to let in the humid summer air and the sounds of a million bugs chirping. It's the only time of the year that I kind of feel like I'm the intended audience and not just a curious outsider with a flexible viewing schedule.
This year's version of the CPL, which starts on Tuesday, will feature almost-daily doubleheaders. A morning game -- remember, morning here is primetime in India -- and an evening game. Because of COVID-19, the entire season is being played in Trinidad and Tobago. And, more importantly, because of the pandemic, games will be played without fans in the stadium.
But a lack of live fans doesn't mean a lack of drama or intriguing storylines. Can Guyana shake off the disappointment of going undefeated through the regular season and play-offs last year only to lose in the final? Can Americans Ali Khan and Jessy Singh continue to prove that the US can produce talented players? And -- most significantly -- can the CPL's bio-secure bubble serve as a safe and effective template for future T20 leagues around the world?
The world continues to be triple-digits weird, but hopefully things might start to feel a billimeter more normal when I hear the CPL theme song for the first time and witness the first Cottrell salute of the season.
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