The Caribbean Premier League returns for its sixth season, with Trinbago Knight Riders ready to defend their title against five other teams. For the first time since the inception of the tournament in 2013, the overseas-player limit in the starting XI has been increased from four to five. We preview the six teams ahead of the tournament opener on August 8.
Trinbago Knight Riders
The defending champions succeeded largely on the strength of their bowling unit in 2017, which had five bowlers take 10 or more wickets when no other team had more than three. Two of those contributors - Shadab Khan and Ronsford Beaton - have withdrawn from the tournament this year.
Though the responsibility on captain Dwayne Bravo and Sunil Narine may increase, a trio of reinforcements have been brought in to maintain depth with the ball. Shannon Gabriel and USA's Ali Khan, who starred in the Global T20 Canada with Winnipeg Hawks, have been brought in to shore up the pace department while Australian legspinner Fawad Ahmed will be aiming to replicate Shadab's success from last year.
TKR's batting has been extremely stable as they have continued to show faith in the core of Brendon McCullum, Denesh Ramdin, Colin Munro and Darren Bravo. However, they took a punt on Chris Lynn in the second round of the draft for USD 130,000. If he can overcome recurring shoulder issues, he can show what a menacing force he was in 2016 when he was the tournament's leading scorer for Guyana Amazon Warriors.
Squad: Dwayne Bravo (capt), Chris Lynn, Sunil Narine, Brendon McCullum, Darren Bravo, Denesh Ramdin, Colin Munro, Khary Pierre, Junior Dala, Javon Searles, Terrance Hinds, Kevon Cooper, Nikita Miller, Anderson Philip, Hamza Tariq, Amir Jangoo
St Kitts & Nevis Patriots
The Patriots saw their fortunes shift dramatically in 2017 thanks to the arrival of Chris Gayle as captain. Having never made the playoffs before, they went all the way from last place in 2016 to the 2017 final before succumbing to TKR. Gayle and Evin Lewis were a formidable opening pair all season, but Lewis enters this year's competition in a form slump that may be a cause for concern.
One of Patriots' shrewd draft picks that paid off in 2017 was the selection of Afghanistan's Mohammad Nabi, who wound up taking nine wickets at a superb 6.55 economy rate and also contributed 98 runs at a strike rate of 196 in limited batting appearances. In the wake of Nabi's unavailability for this season, Patriots have banked on a new Associate gem to make a significant impact.
Nepal's 18-year-old legspinner Sandeep Lamichhane continues to see his stock rise after his promising debut with Delhi Daredevils and should be a major asset for Patriots prior to leaving midway through the tournament for the Asia Cup Qualifier. Lamichhane's place will be filled in the second half by South African domestic batting star Rassie van der Dussen, who also stood out recently for the champion Vancouver Knights in the Global T20 Canada.
Squad: Chris Gayle, Evin Lewis, Ben Cutting, Carlos Brathwaite, Mahmudullah, Tabraiz Shamsi, Tom Cooper, Sheldon Cottrell, Brandon King, Devon Thomas, Graeme Cremer, Fabian Allen, Sandeep Lamichanne, Shamarh Brooks, Jeremiah Louis, Alzarri Joseph, Ibrahim Khaleel, Glen Javelle
The two-time champions continue to see significant turnover and are almost unrecognisable from the squad that claimed their last title in 2016. After the departure of the Gayle-Chadwick Walton opening combo ahead of last season, Tallawahs have seen two of their top three scorers depart - Kumar Sangakkara and Lendl Simmons - as well as two of their three leading wicket-takers - Kesrick Williams and Mohammad Sami - not to mention the Bangladesh pair of Shakib Al Hasan and Mahmudullah.
Tallawahs will be banking on the return of 2016 Player of the Tournament Andre Russell, who missed the 2017 CPL via suspension, to provide a measure of stability and have named him captain. They drafted the dangerous legspin combo of Shahid Afridi and Samuel Badree to support the established spin presence of Imad Wasim, but Afridi opted out of the tournament on August 8, citing "knee rehab" as the reason in his tweet.*
On the batting side, two high-profile additions are Ross Taylor and David Miller. Hard-hitting USA batsman Steven Taylor is hoping a change of scenery will rejuvenate his T20 career after flopping with Guyana Amazon Warriors last season.
Squad: Andre Russell (capt), Imad Wasim, David Miller, Ross Taylor, Rovman Powell, Samuel Badree, Kemar Roach, Glenn Phillips, Andre McCarthy, Krishmar Santokie, Johnson Charles, Steven Taylor, Kennar Lewis, Steven Jacobs, Oshane Thomas, Elmore Hutchinson, Kirstan Kallicharan
Guyana Amazon Warriors
Perhaps the biggest loss for any franchise ahead of the 2018 season is the absence of Rashid Khan for the Warriors. The Afghan legspinner claimed 14 wickets while tying down batsmen with a sparkling economy rate of 5.82. Imran Tahir was snapped up in the sixth round of this year's draft to replace Rashid overs while Shoaib Malik has also come over from Barbados Tridents to bolster both the spin and batting departments and take over the captaincy reins.
Among key returnees, Luke Ronchi excelled as a late-arrival replacement scoring 172 runs in four innings but will be with the Warriors for a full season this season as he continues to be in sizzling form across the T20 circuit. Walton hasn't had much success for West Indies but has been one of the best batsmen in the CPL over the several past seasons and led the tournament run-charts last year with 458 runs while Jason Mohammed was a solid middle-order presence, scoring 292 runs.
Aside from TKR, no side is relying more on their locally-groomed talent to make significant contributions. In the batting department, Shimron Hetmyer and Sherfane Rutherford, who electrified at the Global T20 Canada with an unbeaten 134 off 66 balls for West Indies B against eventual champion Vancouver Knights, will be the key figures. On the bowling side, it means Veerasammy Permaul, Devendra Bishoo and Keemo Paul will need to step up to assist Sohail Tanvir.
Squad: Shoaib Malik (capt), Devendra Bishoo, Rayad Emrit, Shimron Hetmyer, Chris Green, Imran Tahir, Jason Mohammed, Saurabh Netravalkar, Keemo Paul, Veerasammy Permaul, Akshaya Persaud, Roshon Primus, Romario Shepherd, Luke Ronchi, Sherfane Rutherford, Gajanand Singh, Chadwick Walton, Sohail Tanvir, Cameron Delport
After going to the final in 2015, Tridents have missed the playoffs for two years in a row. Captain Kieron Pollard and fellow allrounders Shoaib Malik, Wayne Parnell and Akeal Hosein were the leading scorer or wicket-taker in all but a few games. However, in a major shake-up, all have departed, as has Kane Williamson.
Leading scorer Dwayne Smith and fast bowler Wahab Riaz are the only big stars to survive the cull. Smith scored two centuries last season, but lacked consistency and only scored 146 runs in his other eight innings. Nicholas Pooran took a step back as well, with a best score of 32 in 10 innings. The Tridents leadership has decided to persevere with him, though in the hopes that he returns to his excellent 2016 form.
Steven Smith is the most high-profile new arrival to the CPL this year and is being tasked with revitalising the Tridents batting along with top-draft pick Martin Guptill, who struggled last season with Guyana while dealing with injuries. Hashim Amla comes back to the CPL after excelling with TKR in 2016. A string of Barbadian West Indies internationals are available this year as well to boost the Tridents stocks, led by Test and ODI captain Jason Holder, Roston Chase and Shai Hope.
Squad: Hashim Amla, Roston Chase, Dominic Drakes, Martin Guptill, Chemar K Holder, Jason Holder, Shai Hope, Junaid Khan, Imran Khan, Mohammad Irfan, Ashley Nurse, Shakib Al Hasan, Nicholas Pooran, Raymon Reifer, Dwayne Smith, Steven Smith, Sunny Sohal, Shamar Springer, Wahab Riaz, Tion Webster
St Lucia Stars
The new ownership's decision to change the franchise name from Zouks to Stars brought all sorts of bad karma onto the St Lucia team in 2017. A year after making the playoffs for the first time with a franchise-best six wins, the Stars became the first team in the history of the CPL to go winless. The opening combination of Andre Fletcher and Johnson Charles that proved to be so lethal in 2016 struggled for runs in 2017. Darren Sammy took the fall for the team's poor start and was replaced as captain by Shane Watson midway through the season, though it failed to inspire a turnaround.
Sammy is back, though Charles and Watson are gone. The latter has been replaced by fellow Australian David Warner who hopes to fare better than he did with Winnipeg Hawks on his T20 redemption trail. Taking the spot of Charles is Lendl Simmons, who is with his third team in as many seasons after failing to stick with Patriots and Tallawahs. Both sides of the ball are boosted by the addition of Pollard while another intriguing arrival is Mark Chapman, the Hong Kong-turned-New Zealand international who has been dominant with the bat in New Zealand's domestic competitions but is getting his first opportunity in a foreign competition.
On the bowling side, Stars were the only team in the competition to not have a bowler take double-digit wickets in 2017. Kesrick Williams and Mohammad Sami both accomplished the feat last season for Tallawahs and joined Simmons as part of the exodus to the Stars. On the spin front, 2017's leading wicket-taker Shane Shillingford is gone and hoping to fill the void is the lone Afghan in this year's CPL, teenage legspinner Qais Ahmad, who excelled in his country's run to the semi-finals of the 2018 Under-19 World Cup earlier this year.
Squad: Mark Chapman, Rahkeem Cornwall, Niroshan Dickwella, Andre Fletcher, Chandrapaul Hemraj, Kavem Hodge, Christopher Lamont, Mitchell McClenaghan, Lendl Simmons, Odean Smith, Mohammad Sami, Kieron Pollard, Qais Ahmad, Darren Sammy, David Warner Kesrick Williams, Rumman Raees, Obed McCoy, Jaskaran Malhotra
*1215 GMT Afridi's availability was updated after he tweeted he would miss the tournament