Prodigal son, Kieron Pollard, captained the Trinbago Knight Riders to a tense victory on debut with fellow debutant Jimmy Neesham, producing the all-round goods to deny the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots in the Caribbean Premier League 2019 opener at the Queen’s Park Oval on Wednesday.
Patriots won the toss and limited TKR to 152 off their 20 overs, but they could not muster up the win in the end, falling for 141 all out with two balls left in the innings.
In a topsy-turvy affair, the New Zealand international Neesham showed TKR fans and his boss, Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan, who was in attendance, that the Knight Riders have more than one Kiwi capable of serving up consistency this season.
Neesham joined Denesh ‘Shotta’ Ramdin at the crease with the home team teetering at 20 for three off five overs. The pair were able to rebuild with a 60-run partnership, which set the stage for a vintage Pollard massacre in the latter stages.
Neesham then showed his taste for any occasion by snapping up three crucial catches and three wickets to end the Patriots hopes, after they made a late surge through a quickfire 30 off 14 from Fabian Allen.
“Ramdin and Neesham’s knock in the middle there really brought us back into the game,” exclaimed Pollard after the game.
“He [Neesham] has been hitting the ball pretty well in the nets and bowling well. He has been putting in a lot of hard work coming from New Zealand into Caribbean conditions. I thought the guys worked really hard.”
Opposing captain, Carlos Brathwaite, was equally impressed with Neesham and Ramdin’s influence on the game. He put the defeat down to his own side’s inability to replicate that sort of stability in the middle overs after his bowlers had set the stage for them.
Bowler Sheldon Cottrell really led from the front for the St Kitts and Nevis unit with a blistering spell of three wickets for 13 runs. Coming off very good performances for the West Indies against India, the left-arm quick rattled the stumps of Sunil Narine and Tion Webster in successive overs to leave TKR at 11 for 2.
Lendl Simmons did not last too long either. Called up to replace 2018’s Player of the Tournament, Colin Munro, who will miss the first three games while on International duty, Simmons smacked pacer Alzarri Joseph for a maximum.
Unfortunately, it was a case of six and out in front of his home crowd. Trying to repeat the trick, he bottom-edged a short one back onto his stumps, leaving the TKR fans wondering who would save them.
Munro, Darren Bravo and player-turned-head coach, Brendon McCullum, accounted for 1263 of TKR’s runs last season.
While DM Bravo may return from his head injury soon, it is a massive gulf to fill. But Kieron Pollard is a massive unit of a man and was ready for the responsibility.
After Ramdin and Neesham put on 33 each in the initial repair job, while being gifted a few lives with three drop catches, Pollard blitzed 47 off 32 with some ferocious hitting.
With the score on 89 for 4 and only 6 overs remaining, Pollard slammed Patriots debutant Usama Mir into the third tier of the Learie Constantine stand before following it up with a straight boundary to bring up the 100.
It was then Brathwaite’s turn to feel the might of his bat. Consecutive boundaries pulled through the on side and were then followed up with some even better shots for maximums off Emrit.
Staring down the barrel of a gun, Brathwaite threw the ball back to his main man Cottrell. He was the culprit for two of the dropped catches earlier, but with the ball safely in his hands, he was a different animal.
He removed Ramdin, and then Emrit accounted for danger man Pollard to stymie the Knight Rider momentum in the final few overs.
The Patriots’ chase started quite solidly. With Chris Gayle returning to the Jamaica Tallawahs, opener Evin Lewis was joined by Kjorn Ottley, and they went about the task without too much fuss.
Ottley, a T&T and Combined Colleges and Campuses player, showed little nerves and was committed to playing with the straight bat as much as possible as he ticked along to 25.
After having some initial fortune versus Neesham, Ottley then spliced the ball high into the air for the Kiwi to take the return catch and finally give Pollard’s men the wicket they needed. 47-1.
It was now going to be left to Lewis to carry on.
He took to his task well from the start, launching Khary Pierre over the RBC Stand for the biggest six of the night.
Revenge is sweet though.
Lewis tried to cart Pierre out of the ground again, but he sliced it high into the night air. Neesham came around, settled, put one hand over his face to block the floodlights and then calmly took the catch.
Last season’s finals Man of the Match had gotten the big wicket for 36.
The home team was back in control and then in a flash, the score was 76 for 5 with a knight’s blade firmly at the throat of the Patriots.
New batsman Jason Mohammed was obviously not keen to allow new TKR recruit Seekkuge Prasanna keep him down. He went for the big hit but only found Pierre on the long on boundary. Pierre then accounted for the wicket of Devon Thomas in the next over.
They were soon followed in the dugout by their skipper Brathwaite after some kamikaze running left him stranded down the pitch for a regulation run out.
TKR fans found their voices again. However, Patriots’ marquee player Fabian Allen decided he was about to sing to his own tune and flip the script yet again in this encounter.
Allen went berserk in the 16th as he smashed Sri Lankan spinner Prasanna for four sixes in a game-changing 27-run over.
The arrears were immediately reduced, with Patriots now only needing 42 off 24 balls.
Pollard threw the ball to 19-year-old Pakistani quick Muhammad Hasnain to wrestle the match back in their direction. He duly obliged, combining with Prasanna who got his revenge on the motoring Allen.
Rushed for pace, Allen miscued his shot off Hasnain, and Prasanna took an excellent diving catch to send Allen packing.
It showed the all-round quality and the mettle in the TKR team, according to Pollard.
“I think the moment for me is Prasanna. Getting hit for those four sizes in the over but then taking a crucial catch at the back end. So, it shows the mettle of the team,” Pollard said.
“[…]We saw the talent that he [Hasnain] had, and I think the skipper was adamant that we get him. He showed his mettle […] It goes to show when you travel the world to play T20 cricket that you not only go to play for money.”
Last year’s breakout star, Ali Khan, has a minor ankle injury, but Hasnain certainly has the talent and appetite to fill the void.
Returning in the 19th over, he got rid of the dangerous Mohammed Hafeez and Rayad Emrit to set it up for Neesham to defend 13 in the last over.
For the Patriots, their own young Pakistani recruit, Usama Mir, was threatening to steal it at the end with a few creative shots in his knock of 24.
However, Neesham conjured the same mettle of his compatriots to crack the stumps of Mir and Cottrell and give TKR a debut win for their new captain.
Up next for the Knight Riders is the threatening Jamaica Tallawahs, who have their own prodigal son, Chris Gayle, back for the clash at the Queen’s Park Oval on Friday.
Trinbago Knight Riders – 152/ 7 off 20 overs: Kieron Pollard 47, Denesh Ramdin 33, Jimmy Neesham 33; Sheldon Cottrell 3 for 13, Rayad Emrit 3 for 39.
St Kitts and Nevis Patriots – 141 all out off 19.4 overs: Evin Lewis 36, Fabian Allen 30; Jimmy Neesham 3 for 18, Muhammad Hasnain 3 for 36.