Sheldon Cottrell gleefully snaffled the easy return catch offered by Colin Munro and celebrated with a smart soldier’s salute. With military precision, the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots were on the march to their first Hero CPL finals.
And at home at the Brian Lara Stadium in Tarouba last night, the compliant Trinbago Knight Riders were hardly standing in their way.
The Patriots had finished at the bottom of the table in the last two seasons. But, with former Jamaica Tallawahs skipper Chris Gayle at the helm in 2017, they have looked like a completely transformed side.
Gayle himself looked a completely transformed player last night, producing an uncharacteristically pedestrian innings of 54 off 51 balls to steer his team out of a shaky situation and to a decent total of 149 for 7.
The patient display was followed by a disciplined Patriots bowling performance and a manic Knight Riders batting performance that saw the hosts largely self-destruct, eventually limping to 111 all out with three balls left in the innings.
Patriots head coach Phil Simmons was elated with his captain’s performance.
“That’s a different side of him that we are seeing and we are enjoying it,” he told the post-match media conference. “It’s good to see him taking that responsibility. He feels that, if we don’t get a blistering start like we did against Barbados or in one or two of the other games, he has to be the one to stick around and nurse things through.”
Put in to bat by the home captain whose run of luck with the toss continued, the Patriots were off to a shaky start. A stunning, flying, one-handed catch in the outfield accounted for in-form danger man Evin Lewis in the third over of the game for only six.
Dan was the man with the hand. Australian Dan Christian, who had stepped off the plane as the replacement for the injured Brendon McCullum only 24 hours before, was still flying. When the explosive Lewis miscued a pull shot and sent the ball climbing a mile into the Tarouba night sky, Christian covered a vast amount of ground between him and the cover boundary before soaring feline-like through the air to get his right hand to the ball. And hold on.
It was a catch worthy of the absent McCullum. But the performance as a whole was not.
In the pre-match press conference on Monday, Bravo had revealed that the TKR would be playing to win for their injured teammate. To be fair to the Trinbago outfit, the demanding New Zealander would have been pleased with his team’s impressive start.
With half the job done in the field, the home side could not quite produce the same high standard in their turn at the crease.
“We would have been happy to chase 150 before the game started,” Bravo admitted to the post-game media conference. “I think to contain Patriots to 149 was a great bowling effort by us. But we just didn’t bat properly; we didn’t bat smart.”
And he was right; it was kamikaze cricket at its best.
A mere 18 balls into the innings, TKR were already three wickets down with only six runs on the board. The new opening pair of William Perkins and Sunil Narine took off for a suicidal run. Lewis’ direct hit from cover sent the bails flying and Narine back to the dugout without facing a ball.
Perkins and Munro soon followed. The former swung wildly at a loose Hilfenhaus ball down the leg-side and feathered a catch to Devon Thomas behind the stumps; Cottrell accepted the latter’s gift.
After five overs, Denesh Ramdin and the younger Bravo, DM, who had each made match-winning contributions in the round robin phase, were at the crease. But the required run rate had already spiked to just below 9.
Every dot ball seemed like one more nail in the TKR coffin. And when Ramdin departed, popping a simple catch to Gayle at short-cover off a short-pitched Carlos Brathwaite delivery, many in the half-full BLS must have realized that this was simply not TKR’s night.
On the full grassy mound section of the Stadium (the least expensive section at US$40 a ticket), there was lusty cheering as Bravo tried to fight back after the drinks break.
Having earlier eaten up the majority of the dot balls, he first muscled South African leg-spinner Tabraiz Shamsi for a flat six back over the bowler’s head. Then he swivelled and cut the him for a boundary despite a despairing dive from Lewis.
And then, just like that, he too was gone. And visibly disgusted with himself.
On 29, the top score of the innings, he set off for an imaginary single that Christian, at the non-striker’s recognised as non-existent. Thomas collected the smart return and spreadeagled the stumps emphatically with the younger Bravo floundering in mid-pitch.
Enter, at 59 for 5, the older Bravo, DJ. Swinging for the fences, he contributed 24 off 13 balls. It merely delayed the inevitable. When Cottrell (3/17) eventually accounted for him, the fans began to stream towards the exits.
Earlier, 7 for 1 off 3 overs had quickly moved to 42 for 2 off 7, Mohammad Hafeez (21, 13b, 3 x 4, 1 x 6) being caught behind off Kevon Cooper flashing at a wide delivery. Gayle, however, simply continued to bat within himself and keep the score moving along.
TKR’s eventually wicketless spin duo of Narine and Shadab Khan threatened but the Universe Boss continued to play within himself, content to secure his wicket and edge the score along.
He had survived a very confident appeal for LBW, looking to be hit plumb in front in Ronsford Beaton’s first over. After that, he declined to ride his luck.
At 90 for 2 in the 14th over, Bravo (4 for 38) removed Brandon King, who had been given a life by Perkins two balls earlier. Many thought that was the cue for the Gayle storm. It never came.
With wickets falling regularly at the other end, the big Jamaican continued sedately along, determined not to leave the responsibility to anyone else. He did bring up his 50 with a straight slog to the boundary off Bravo but it was hardly the most memorable Gayle half-century one would ever see.
Thomas added some gloss to the final score with two massive sixes off Bravo in the final over to take the target to 150. It was a decent score but certainly not one a team with championship aspirations can be proud of not reaching.
TKR now await the winner of tonight’s eliminator between the Jamaica Tallawahs and the Amazon Warriors, knowing they must win to have a shot at avenging last night’s defeat.
And stopping the triumphant advance of Gayle and his patriotic troops.
St Kitts and Nevis Patriots: 149 for 7 (20 overs) Chris Gayle 54*, Brandon King 30, Mohammad Hafeez 21, Dwayne Bravo 4/38.
Trinbago Knight Riders: 111 (19.3 overs) Darren Bravo 29, Dwayne Bravo 24, Sheldon Cottrell 3/17.
Result: STKNP win by 38 runs and advance to the final