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
Sri Lanka’s 13-man squad to begin training on Monday
Sri Lanka Cricket will go ahead with plans for a 13-man squad of players to begin training on Monday, despite a sharp rise in the number of Covid-19 infections in the country over the past few weeks.
The players will essentially put themselves and four support staff in a bubble, over the course of the 12-day “residential training camp” at the Colombo Cricket Club. The squad, which largely comprises of bowlers, will stay at a nearby hotel, and “will not be allowed to leave the hotel premises or the practice venue to attend personal matters” according to an SLC release.
Although 531 new Covid-19 patients had been identified in Sri Lanka since May 24, those new cases are believed to be almost entirely from quarantine centres from around the country, with recent returnees from the Middle East comprising the majority of patients. In general, the Sri Lanka government has indicated that the spread of the virus is under control, and has so far avoided reimposing the strict, extended curfews seen through April and the early part of May.
The government is also understood to be supporting this resumption of training.
“Health officials already visited the hotel and the practice venue, and provided health guidelines to the staff members of the respective venues to follow,” the board release said.
Among those who will start training are quicks Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep, Isuru Udana, Kasun Rajitha and Lahiru Kumara, as well as spinners Wanindu Hasaranga and Lasith Embuldeniya. Kusal Perera and Danushka Gunathilaka have also been included in this squad. Head coach Mickey Arthur and batting coach Grant Flower – both of whom have been in Sri Lanka through the duration of the viral outbreak – are among the support staff.
SLC had hoped international cricket could begin on the island in late June or early July, but India – the team that is due to visit next – has not confirmed the tour.
Virat Kohli: MS Dhoni played a big role in my becoming captain
Kohli took over as the full-time Test captain when Dhoni retired from the format midway through India’s tour of Australia in 2014-15, and later became captain across formats when Dhoni quit his limited-overs post in early 2017.
Kohli said the process was a gradual one of “earning trust” over several years.
“I was always inclined towards taking responsibility,” Kohli said of his early days in the India dressing room, during an Instagram chat with team-mate R Ashwin. “After that it was all about just wanting to play, wanting to be in the XI regularly. I didn’t play all the games, but I wanted to be discussed, that ‘whether this guy is good enough to play or not.’ That is a transition that slowly happens.
“Then with your interest in the game you start talking to the captain regularly. I was always in MS’s ear, standing next to him, saying, ‘We can do this, we can do that.’ He would deny a lot of things but he would discuss a lot of things as well. I think he got a lot of confidence that I can do this after him.
“A large portion of me becoming captain was also to do with him observing me for a long period of time. It can’t just happen that he goes and the selectors say, ‘Okay you become captain.’ Obviously the guy who is there takes responsibility and says, ‘Okay I think this is the next guy. I will tell you how it is going.’ And then slowly that transition is formed. He played a big role in that, and that trust you have to build over six-seven years. It doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a process.”
Kohli was first appointed vice-captain for the 2012 Asia Cup, which followed India’s tour of Australia for a Test series and a tri-series in 2011-12. In a tour that otherwise went poorly for India, who were blanked 4-0 in the Tests and failed to reach the tri-series final, Kohli emerged with distinction. He scored his maiden Test century in the fourth match at Adelaide, becoming the only India batsman to reach three figures in that series. In the ODIs, he made his then highest score in the format , smashing 133* off just 86 balls as India chased down a target of 321 in 36.4 overs to keep their hopes of making the final alive.
Kohli said that tour helped him become aware of his game and hone it significantly. “I remember that whole season,” he said. “It was from that Test hundred in Adelaide to continuously stringing scores. That was a phase of six to eight months where I really realised a lot about my own game and came into my own as far as my skills were concerned.
“I was very competitive but I wasn’t very sure or in control of what I wanted to do before. When you come in new, you’re still figuring out how to go about it. At the international stage you want to be feared, you want to be respected. You don’t want to walk in and hear, ‘He’s one of the youngsters, we’ll just knock him over.’ We all play for that. That was a phase where I started to realise this.”
In the Asia Cup that followed, Kohli made 183 in another tall chase, against Pakistan. He revealed that during this knock, he had negated the threat posed by Saeed Ajmal by treating the offspinner as if he were a legspinner.
“I told myself I’m going to start playing him like a legspinner,” Kohli said. “Because his doosra was quite difficult to face and his offspinner was not that lethal. So I said I’m going to try and hit him over cover consistently, and it just paid off. As soon as I negated his doosra, the potency of his threat became lesser and lesser.
“In that game I scored most of my runs against him through the off side [29 off 10 balls on the off side and 7 off 7 on the leg side]. My only aim was I’m going to make him unsettled with his doosra. He should fear bowling the doosrato me, then I’m on top of my game.”
Rohit Sharma nominated for Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award
The BCCI has nominated Rohit Sharma for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, India’s highest sporting honour. The board has also nominated India fast bowler Ishant Sharma, opening batsman Shikhar Dhawan and India woman allrounder Deepti Sharma for the Arjuna award.
Rohit’s Khel Ratna nomination comes on the back of an outstanding 2019 with the bat: 556 runs at an average of 92.66 in five Test matches, all while opening the batting for the first time; and 1657 ODI runs at 57.30, including the unprecedented feat of five centuries at a single World Cup.
If Rohit wins the award, he will become only the fourth cricketer, after Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli, to do so.
“We went through a lot of data and considered various parameters before shortlisting the nominees,” Sourav Ganguly, the BCCI president, said via a media release. “Rohit Sharma has set new benchmarks as a batsman and achieved scores people thought were not possible in the shorter formats of the game. We feel he is worthy of getting the prestigious Khel Ratna award for his commitment, conduct, consistency and his leadership skills.
“Ishant Sharma is the most senior member of the Test squad and his contribution has been vital in Indian team’s long run as the No. 1 Test side. Fast bowlers are prone to injuries and Ishant has had a fair share of them but he has fought hard to be back on the park every time. Shikhar has been consistently scoring at the top and his performances in the ICC events have been significant. Deepti is a genuine allrounder and her contribution to the team has been vital.”
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