When most of us think of CPL star power on the domestic player front, the first names that roll off the tongue are of Andre Russell, Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Darren Sammy, Sunil Narine and the like. But this year’s tournament has suggested that a change of guard maybe on the cards, with none of those big names taking part in the final, to be played between perennial bridesmaids Guyana Amazon Warriors and a resurgent Barbados Tridents.
In past years, the Amazon Warriors have fallen short after building their team around overseas stars like Rashid Khan, Martin Guptill and Chris Lynn. Most of their additions during draft time in 2019 may have flown under the radar, but coach Johan Botha has cultivated incredible chemistry to produce the most remarkable winning streak in CPL history, currently standing at 11 matches.
Yes, the Amazon Warriors have their share of established talent. Captain Shoaib Malik has provided metronomic consistency in the middle order with 313 runs at an average of 78.25. Imran Tahir‘s manic sprints have shown few signs of slowing down with each wicket celebration, leading the team with 15 scalps. Chris Green has been miserly and incisive with his new-ball offspin. Nicholas Pooran, Sherfane Rutherford and Shimron Hetmyer have provided the muscle and flair to give them the late kick when needed.
But their improbable record is equally due to the contributions from a number of unheralded and often underappreciated players. Brandon King was taken in the ninth round of the 2019 draft in the traditional US$ 15,000 slot but he is the tournament’s leading scorer with 453 runs. Romario Shepherd was taken a round later in the US$ 10,000 position but has needled opposition batsmen with 12 wickets to stem momentum in the middle overs. Chandrapaul Hemraj lasted until round 13 in a US$ 5,000 slot, yet has been a handy foil for King at the top of the order and has also chipped in with key overs of left-arm spin in the powerplay, like the 3 for 15 to plough through the defending champions Trinbago Knight Riders.
The Tridents’ record has a few more blemishes, but their formula to reach the final has not been much different. Johnson Charles, discarded by West Indies in 2016, has powered their starts with a team-leading 376 runs. In the same vein as Malik, Tridents captain Jason Holder has been a source of inspiration not just with his 14 wickets, third-highest in the tournament, but for shrewd bowling changes and some special fielding, especially at long-on and long-off in the slog overs.
Though the management misfired with their first overall selection at the draft in the form of Alex Hales, who has yet to score a fifty, coach Phil Simmons has made wise decisions in his choice of replacement players after the draft. Shakib Al Hasan‘s nuggety knocks and tidy spells have been a late-season bonus. JP Duminy has been a reassuring presence in the middle order and fired the tournament’s fastest fifty against the Knight Riders. Harry Gurney‘s variations have thrown big-hitters out of sync at the death.
The Tridents’ bargain shopping has trumped the Amazon Warriors’ by some distance too. Raymon Reifer, who iced the semi-final against the Knight Riders by trapping Seekkuge Prasanna for his tenth wicket of the season, was taken in round 14 for US$ 5000. The Tridents mined a diamond in the final round with their US$ 3000 ICC Americas pick, taking USA’s Hayden Walsh Jr., who is not only the tournament’s leading wicket-taker with 21 in eight matches, but has been the event’s most electric fielder. Just ask Pollard, who fell victim to a momentum-shifting run-out by Walsh Jr. on Thursday night.
Saturday night might not be as raucous an occasion at the Brian Lara Academy without the host franchise involved. But there’s no doubt it will be a memorable one as the Amazon Warriors pursue perfection while the Tridents try to pull off an upset.
Guyana Amazon Warriors WWWWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Barbados Tridents WLWWL
In the spotlight
Coming into CPL 2019, 24-year-old Brandon King had just one fifty and 267 runs in 14 career T20 innings. But he has four 50-plus scores in his last seven matches. He broke Russell’s record on Sunday for the highest score in CPL history, bashing an unbeaten 132 off 72 balls with 11 fours and ten sixes. It was an innings that brought coach Botha to tears, but the tournament’s most improved batsman was restrained in his celebrations, an indication that he may have bigger plans in store for the final.
Hayden Walsh Jr. entered the season as the back-up legspinner to Sandeep Lamichhane, the same role he served when the pair was together in 2018 at St Kitts & Nevis Patriots. But when Lamichhane left after the sixth match for national duty with Nepal, Walsh Jr. got an opportunity to come back into the line-up and exploded with a five-wicket haul against the Knight Riders. Walsh Jr. now has a CPL-best 21 in eight matches, has never taken fewer than two wickets in any game, and is a spark plug at backward point.
The only reason the Amazon Warriors may change the line-up that beat the Tridents in the qualifier is if they feel they need another variation bowler at the death. Ben Laughlin is a candidate if so, but if it ain’t broke, they are unlikely to fix it.
Guyana Amazon Warriors (probable XI): 1 Brandon King, 2 Chandrapaul Hemraj, 3 Shimron Hetmyer, 4 Shoaib Malik (capt), 5 Nicholas Pooran (wk), 6 Sherfane Rutherford, 7 Keemo Paul, 8 Chris Green, 9 Romario Shepherd, 10 Odean Smith, 11 Imran Tahir
The Tridents leadership will be sweating over Duminy’s fitness after he had to retire hurt with what appeared to be a hamstring injury during his innings on Thursday against the Knight Riders. If he can’t go, the most likely alternative is Justin Greaves, who scored a half-century earlier this season when Hales left temporarily for the T20 Vitality Blast final.
Barbados Tridents (probable XI): 1 Alex Hales, 2 Johnson Charles, 3 Shakib Al Hasan, 4 Shai Hope (wk), 5 JP Duminy/Justin Greaves, 6 Jonathan Carter, 7 Jason Holder (capt), 8 Raymon Reifer, 9 Ashley Nurse, 10 Hayden Walsh Jr., 11 Harry Gurney
Pitch and conditions
The Tridents fielders looked like they were on ice skates at times in the outfield, which had excessive dew after Thursday’s qualifier playoff was pushed back to 8.15pm local time due to transportation problems the Tridents experienced making the drive south from Port-of-Spain to Tarouba. But the final is scheduled for a 5pm start, making the dew less of a factor. The Brian Lara Academy pitch has regularly been challenging for batsmen, and scoring more than 150 batting first hasn’t been easy.
Stats and trivia
The Tridents’ only CPL title came in 2014, when they beat the Amazon Warriors in the final in St Kitts by eight runs (DLS method). Current Amazon Warriors captain Malik was Man of the Match in the final for the Tridents, scoring an unbeaten 55 off 42 balls. That loss by the Amazon Warriors was the second of four runner-up finishes, including last year.
The tournament’s leading wicket-taker has been a part of the champion squad on three occasions: Krishmar Santokie (16) for Jamaica Tallawahs in 2013, Dwayne Bravo (28) for Trinidad & Tobago Red Steel in 2015, and Fawad Ahmed (22) for the Knight Riders in 2018. Only once has the tournament’s leading scorer played for the champion team: Colin Munro (567 runs) in 2018 for the Knight Riders.
“If you start thinking about going into a bigger game then you add extra pressure on you. Since we have so many youngsters, my message is still the same. When you come to the ground, whatever responsibilities you get, just try to handle them not thinking about how this is a final because then your brain is only working towards a trophy.”
Shoaib Malik on the pressure to end undefeated
“The beauty of our performances so far in this tournament is we’ve held on in close games. We also lost some close games but the majority of our games we held our nerve and been able to come out on top.”
Jason Holder on the Tridents’ resilient run to the final
Nicholas Pooran made a ‘silly mistake’ – Dwayne Bravo
“I know Pooran since he was 17 years old and he is not that type of player,” Bravo said on Thursday in Abu Dhabi where he will be playing in the T10 tournament as Maratha Arabians’ captain. “Yes, that (ball-tampering) happened, the evidence is there. But deep down inside he doesn’t mean anything [bad] to cheat or anything.”
Pooran was banned for four T20Is after video footage showed him scratching the surface of the ball with his thumbnail. He admitted to the offence, a breach of level 3 of the ICC’s Code of Conduct, and accepted the sanction proposed by match referee Chris Broad.
In his defence, the young batsman said it was an “isolated” incident, which would not be repeated as it was an “extreme error in judgment” on his part.
Pooran will now miss the ongoing three-match T20I series against Afghanistan and the opening match of the subsequent exchanges against India.
Bravo said Pooran needed to be given time to understand his mistake. “It is just a silly mistake on his part,” Bravo said. “He accepted it. But I know the individual personally, and that is not something he will ever do or encourage anyone to do. It is just a simple mistake, he gets caught, he accepts it, but he is far from that type of player.”
‘Shows incredible courage to talk about mental health’
In recent weeks three Australian cricketers – Glenn Maxwell, Nic Maddinson and Will Pucovski – have stepped away from the game to manage their mental health. ESPNcricinfo spoke to Cricket Australia’s head of sports science, Alex Kountouris, about how mental health is being addressed, breaking down sigmas, how players can seek help and the systems in place to aid them.
What happens in terms of support for players?
There’s quite an extensive support network across Australian cricket, so some of it is internal, Cricket Australia, the state and then there’s external providers. Generally players have touch points with all three of those. Obviously friends and family, but there is quite a good support network and that’s something we’re happy and proud about.
What we’ve seen with the recent three players, and we’ve seen with other players over the last 12 months, male and female, is players being comfortable to talk about it and ask for help. There’s two benefits to that, one the players get the support they need, but also we see them as role models for society, because hopefully they encourage others who are suffering in silence to come out and talk about it and get the help they need. It’s great that they are talking about it so publicly and prepared to talk about it publicly, that others can benefit from it as well.
Has Australian cricket broken down the old school perception that to admit to mental health struggles is a weakness rather than a strength?
That’s certainly an old way of looking at it, but we’re trying to break those stigmas and barriers down, because it’s the opposite. Someone shows incredible courage to come out and talk about something like this and I expect that it will help others, rather than having a negative effect. It’s a really positive thing. Overall, while we don’t want our players to have issues, it’s a great thing that this group of players, and other players have come out and spoken about some of the struggles they’re having openly. That can encourage others to talk about it and break down some of those stigmas we know have existed in the past.
What is CA doing to improve its understanding of mental health issues?
We’ve conducted a survey with the Orygen mental health group, they’re a provider of mental health research and education services in the youth space. We did a survey with them in the 2014-15 season then we repeated is in 2016 in the off-season and compared results. Now we’re in the tail end of completing a survey again of all our male and female players and we expect by February/March next year we’ll have the results of that.
For us the real benefit is we get an idea of a comparison with our previous information we had, and we also get a comparison with our players with community norms as well, similar age groups. What we’ve seen in the past is our players are no more or less vulnerable to mental health and wellbeing issues, so we’re just a mirror of society. There may be different factors associated with why elite players have mental health and wellbeing issues, but part of the survey is trying to understand that, trying to work out some of those triggers, and it’s typically not one thing, it’s typically a number of factors that could cause this.
How does the players’ association link into the project?
It’s all done in conjunction with the ACA, co-funding the project, we’ve looked at the survey questions together. Then together with the ACA we’ve got a wellbeing education program that’s just about to kick off as well. That’s been probably 12 months in the pipeline, and will be across all the different players in the state and CA system and they get education around mental health and wellbeing. Hopefully the players can pick up some of the skills and awareness they need to better understand this and pick it up earlier.
If you want to take a step even further than that, we’re doing a research project with the Orygen group on our pathway players. That’s happening next month, looking at our younger players that we haven’t captured before, and try to understand some of the challenges there. We’ve also resourced our pathway championships with a full-time psychologist there.
Cricket’s volume and frequency of travel is a unique challenge for players and staff. Can you use the networks that grow around teams to help anyone who is struggling get the support they need before they actually have to pull out of playing or coaching?
Travel’s an interesting one, it’s very individual how it affects people. But we’ve got pretty good support networks when our teams are on tour, so we’ve always got a doctor for all our tours, whether they’re pathway tours or our men’s and women’s teams, or Australia A. Increasingly we’ve got our psychologist travelling with some of our teams as well as support. But it’s just very individual, trying to offer what players need and pick things up early and offer the support they need.
It’s also about looking ahead and seeing what the travel schedule is going to be like and trying to manage that. But travel is only one of many potential triggers. It’s probably one that’s more akin to elite athletes, one of a handful of things that might be more relevant for elite athletes, but there’s other things that are common to everyone in society, things like relationships, stresses of work and the everyday stresses of life.
One thing that has been seen in the mental health area is that making face to face contact or picking up the phone to admit to needing mental health support or a break can be harder than sending a message, an email or putting the information into an app. Do the players have that option at the moment?
There’s nothing specific, and I can’t tell you how the recent players declared how they felt but it will be different for everyone. One of the things we do is expect players to log in wellness information every day on an app. On this app, which is common across elite sport, you say how sore you are, how fatigued you are, and one of the questions is how stressed you are and how you feel overall in your wellness.
That’s tracked by each player’s support network so we pick up things like that sometimes. So if you see a player hasn’t slept well for three or four days or they’ve reported high levels of stress for two or three days, then someone will get in touch. It might be ‘I’ve had a sore neck and I couldn’t sleep properly’ or it might be ‘I’m really struggling with stress’ and the right people will then follow that up. That might be the way players provide information, other will be happy just to talk about it.
We also have a monthly mental health and wellbeing screening tool that’s available to players on an optional basis in our internal app. That again can be a way to flag something, even if players and support staff don’t feel like they want to do the survey, we still encourage them to go through and look at the questions and reflect on the questions. If something resonates with them that’s not quite right, speak to the right person.
If you look at the way cricket is evolving, and the increasing number of teams players play for, is that providing an additional challenge where in the past they maybe only had two or three team environments to move between at most?
Some players will be affected more or less by swapping teams and things like that. The challenge is making sure the support network is there and having the ability to talk to someone. As you move from one team to another, there’s different support staff, different people, different levels of relationships between people and one of the things we like about the wellness information we collect is that can be done every day, no matter where you are. Someone could be in India playing in the IPL and they report they haven’t slept well for three days and someone will get in touch and say ‘what’s the story’. It may just be jetlag and that’s not a problem, or they’ll tell you ‘I’m really struggling’ and that can start the conversation.
It does throw up a challenge, but we’ve got some things in place that we think can help us identify some of the tough periods and it comes back to the player’s willingness to share that information doesn’t it. If they’re not telling us the information we don’t have it. There are lots of different avenues for the player to report the information. But the work we’re doing with the Orygen group will help us understand where we need to be putting our resources. It’s all about educating the players about what to look for and what some of the stresses are, and really trying to better understand mental health and wellbeing.
Recent Match Report – New Zealand A vs England Tour Match 2019
England 26 for 1 trail New Zealand A 302 for 6 dec (Phillips 116, Rutherford 59, Blundell 60) by 276 runs
If England had any doubts about the magnitude of the task facing them over the next few weeks, they will have been dispelled by a tough day in the field in Whangarei.
Unable to coax movement from the ball or life from the surface, they were instead obliged to wait for the declaration from a New Zealand A batting line-up containing three men with Test experience. Glenn Phillips, a 22-year-old batsman with more than a hint of Steve Smith about him, recorded the fourth century of his first-class career and England conceded 3.59 runs an over.
The loss of Rory Burns, who cut a long-hop to point moments before the close, rounded off the challenge. The appearance of Jack Leach as nightwatchman seemed an oddly negative response. The purpose of such games is, after all, to put players under pressure in order to prepare for challenges to come.
Afterwards, Darren Gough – England’s short-term bowling consultant – was full of empathy for his charges. He had his share of such days, after all. But, among the words of support and respect, there was a reminder that the best, as he put it, “find a way” to succeed in such conditions.
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“The way I look at it,” Gough said, “is that New Zealand’s bowlers, Trent Boult and Tim Southee, bowl at 85mph and they somehow find a way to take wickets on New Zealand pitches. The ball has to swing here, because they are swing bowlers and they have good records. You have to find a way.”
Ben Stokes suggested that the pitch was “seriously flat” and that it had provided a useful challenge. “[It was] a bit surprising,” he told Test Match Special, “but that’s a great test for us as a bowling group to be exposed to. It was a great opportunity for us to try a few different things; set different fields, bowl to different plans that we normally wouldn’t.”
As ever with such warm-up games, it probably pays not to read too much into the statistics. Many of this England side are now pretty experienced and will not be striving for peak performance in such circumstances. It’s all about being ready for next week.
But it was, Jofra Archer aside, hard to see where England were going to find the weapons to damage New Zealand. On these surfaces, with this ball, Kane Williamson looks a desperately tough proposition.
Archer’s third spell was probably the day’s highlight from an England perspective. Generating sharp pace from a docile wicket and an old ball, he unsettled the batsmen with some well-directed short-balls. Phillips took one blow to the forearm and was thrown off his feet as he jerked his head out of the way of another. Earlier Hamish Rutherford had been struck on the side of the head by an Archer bouncer, but looked in excellent touch before departing in somewhat unfortunate fashion as he feathered an edge down the leg side.
England’s problem, though, is that their opposition know Archer cannot bowl forever. And with no Mark Wood or Olly Stone in reserve, it is hard to build the required intensity from an attack that lacks the pace to sustain Archer’s threat. Stokes could, perhaps, fulfil the role of fast-bowling foil to Archer – he certainly bowled fast enough on slow surfaces in Sri Lanka – but in this game, understandably, was probably holding back just a little.
While Stuart Broad struck early, neither he or Sam Curran carried much threat for the rest of the day. Curran came back pretty well after a disappointing first spell but he could face a tough series if he is unable to coax any swing from these balls. Stokes, while expensive, took two quick wickets after deceiving Tim Seifert with what appeared to be a slower ball and then saw Jimmy Neesham play-on as he attempted a forcing stroke. Leach conceded three fours in five deliveries at one stage but only conceded one more in his 26 overs. Again, there is nothing in these conditions for Leach but if he can restrict the scoring rate to 2.15 an over as he did here, he can feel he has done a decent job for his team.
One thing is certain: if England are to win here for the first time since 2008, they will have to hold their catches. On the first day of this match, Dom Sibley, at second slip, put down a relatively simple stomach-height offered by Phillips on 27 off Stokes. These things happen, of course, but they are starting to happen just a little more often than can be ignored. Tom Blundell was reprieved on 60, too, when it caught behind off what turned out to be a no-ball, though he was very well caught at midwicket next ball.
There was also an injury scare. Joe Root was forced off the field for a while after landing heavily when diving to prevent a boundary at long-on. He was subsequently diagnosed with a jarred hip, but returned to field well before stumps. It is not anticipated there will be lasting consequences.
In the longer-term, Gough felt Saqib Mahmood could be the sort of bowler who could make inroads in such conditions. With his pace, his somewhat slingy action and a willingness to pitch the ball full, he would appear to have the ingredients to reverse this kookaburra ball as Gough once did. “He’s different to the others,” Gough said. “He’s another option when the pitch is flat. We’re working on reverse. He has the natural talent to do it and he’s desperate to be better at it. He’s keen to learn.”
Some may point to Curran’s figures and suggest Chris Woakes was unfortunate to miss out here. And it is true that Woakes, with his extra pace, can at least force batsmen on to the back foot a little more readily. He also feels his recently-acquired ability to bowl the wobble seam gives him a new weapon in such conditions. But it’s not as if he has not had chances in such circumstances and it may well be wishful thinking to suggest he would have provided any more of a cutting edge. As Gough said later, while recognising Woakes’ skills, “whether he has to do something different to the past away from home, it will be interesting to see if he gets an opportunity and realises that.” The slightly depressing truth is, after years of playing county cricket on seaming wickets and with a Dukes ball, there are very few England bowlers who will flourish in these conditions.
“I’ve not seen a swinging ball in the two weeks I’ve been here,” Gough said, though he did admit he had managed to swing it in the nets. “At about 70 mph. And that’s a big difference. If it swings, it will be for the first eight or nine overs.”
Whatever happens on this tour, the influence of Gough has been perceived as a success. The combination of a fresh voice and his vast experience have provided new ideas to experienced bowlers who have probably heard rather a lot of the familiar, somewhat homogenised ECB voices. Gough, positive but prepared to offer some home truths where necessary, has encouraged new ideas. It seems unlikely he will be lured into anything like a full-time role – he enjoys his radio job too much for that – but conversations about future consultancy spells with England’s bowlers are ongoing.
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