The Trinbago Knight Riders, led by West Indies white ball captain Kieron Pollard, proved unbeatable throughout the 2020 season, winning all 12 of their Caribbean Premier League games.
In the opening encounter of the 2021 season on Thursday at Warner Park in Basseterre, St Kitts, the Guyana Amazon Warriors, astutely led by West Indies T20 vice-captain Nicholas Pooran, ensured that there will be no repeat this year, getting home to a 9-run win.
In a game where the form looked throughout like an opening game, GAW’s modest 142 for 7 proved just out of reach of the defending champions, who could only manage 133 for 9 in reply.
From the start of over #4 to the end of over # 11, the GAW spinners kept the TKR batsmen on a tight rein. Lendl Simmons (5 off 6), Colin Munro (13 off 7) and Darren Bravo (3 off 6) all failed to fire against Mohammad Hafeez, Imran Tahir and Ashley Nedd while Tim Seifert and Sunil Narine got into the 20’s but did not carry on.
With TKR on 86 for 5 and needing to accelerate the scoring as the opposition had done at that stage, Romario Shepherd induced an edge from the hard-hitting Pollard and a gleeful Pooran pouched the easy chance.
That tilted the scales in favour of a GAW win.
Denesh Ramdin would still have fancied his team’s chances of getting just under 50 from the remaining 36 balls. And when after four more overs, the equation read 32 needed from 12 balls, he must have felt they were still in it.
But fancying his chances of clearing the almost 6ft Shoaib Malik at long-on off Shepherd, he miscalculated.
And Shepherd completed over #19 with his wicket and without conceding a single run.
In the final over, Hosein smashed Naveen-ul-Haq over the ropes three times. But it was not enough to get his side over the line.
Shepherd’s 3/15 was not good enough either to earn him the Man-of-the-Match award but the three scalps he captured—he also removed Simmons in his first over, the second of the innings—were absolutely crucial to the outcome.
However, medium pacer Odean Smith (2/10), who has never batted higher than number 8 in a CPL match before Thursday. may have got the nod because his major contribution came with the bat.
Asked to take first strike after Pollard won the toss, GAW lost both openers in the Powerplay, Hosein catching Chandrapaul Hemraj off Sunil Narine and then having Brandon King caught by Isuru Udana. So for reasons that were perhaps obvious to Pooran but to few others, at 23 for 1 in the fourth over, in strode Smith.
When he left near the end of the eighth over, the score had moved to 53 for 3, his contribution 24 off just 15 balls with two boundaries and a six. It was enough to tip the scales in his favour, given his subsequent contribution with the ball.
West Indies coach Phil Simmons is known to be watching these proceedings closely with an eye on the October/November World Cup in the UAE and Oman. He would have been heartened by what happened immediately before and after Smith’s departure. Shimron Hetmyer, in at number 4, held up one end, content to accumulate ones and twos.
But with the GAW score reading 83 for 4 after 14 overs, the West Indies middle-order left-hander changed tack. His 54 came off 41 balls, the 41st being the last ball of the GAW innings. And almost exactly half of them (4 x 4, 2 x 6) had come in boundaries.
So Simmons (P) had something to be pleased with—and much with which to be less pleased.
Neither Simmons (L), Bravo nor Pollard (2 off 7) looked tournament-ready at the crease. And Jayden Seales, so impressive at times in the two Tests vs Pakistan, did not satisfy either, conceding 30 runs off his four overs, his solitary wicket coming with the last ball of the innings.
Pooran said they had ‘wanted to start the season well’ but he was ‘disappointed with our last over with the ball’.
Pollard mentioned where his team had gone wrong—‘we gave them too many runs, dropped a few catches at the back end’—but still found a positive to take away: ‘we bowled well for 18 overs’.
Clearly both are only too well aware that there is still a long, long way to go in this year’s tournament.
And they are mindful too of their respective pre-histories.
GAW are no strangers to getting their noses in front in the early running and contriving to be around at the finish. But better than any other team in the CPL, they know what people mean when they say that the time to be in front is at the end.
TKR have been four times previously. GAW just have never been able to achieve it.
GAW: 142 for 7 (Shimron Hetmyer 54, Sunil Narine 2/17, Akeal Hosein 2/17)
TKR: 133 for 9 (Denesh Ramdin 28, Tim Seifert 23, Akeal Hosein 22, Sunil Narine 20, Romario Shepherd 3/15, Odean Smith 2/10, Imran Tahir 2/12)
Man-of-the-Match: Odean Smith
Result: GAW win by 9 runs
GAW 2 points, TKR 0 points