No Bravo brothers. No Colin Munro. No problem!
Last night, the two-time defending Caribbean Premier League (CPL) champions, Trinbago Knight Riders (TKR), eased to a convincing 22-run victory over the power-packed Jamaica Tallawahs outfit at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain.
During an interview with the CPL commentary team during last night’s encounter, TKR skipper Dwayne Bravo revealed that he would be out for the remainder of the 2019 CPL season after undergoing surgery on a fractured finger.
And even though Bravo’s charismatic presence was absent on the field, TKR and their stand-in captain, Kieron Pollard, flexed their collective muscles against one of the pre-tournament favourites. On the back of brilliant performances by mystery spinner Sunil Narine (46 runs and figures of 2 for 23) and stylish top-order batsman Tion Webster (66 not out), the hosts avoided the eye of a Gayle Storm and found the kryptonite for Tallawahs own Superman, Andre ‘Dre Russ’ Russell.
In last year’s clash with TKR at the Oval, the belligerent Russell delivered quite a remarkable performance, as he took a hat-trick and clobbered an unbeaten 121 to help the Tallawahs chase down a record score of 223.
The Queen’s Park Oval crowd was left speechless.
Last night, Russell again entered the fray with a near impossible task on his hands. The Tallawahs needed 99 runs from the last seven overs, which equates to a staggering required run rate of 14 runs per over.
Again, Russell tried to do the unthinkable, and the home team seemed to be playing with fire, dropping the Jamaican three times before he eventually succumbed to New Zealand all-rounder James Neesham in the final over of the Tallawahs innings for a brisk 44 (24).
Russell just came up short in his other-worldly pursuits, but last night TKR had their own superhero: Sunil Narine.
Although his bowling doesn’t come with the same mystery since a remodelled action, the wily off-spinner stymied the Tallawahs batting in a brilliant spell of spin bowling. However, it was with the bat that Narine turned the game on its head.
Narine, who has had sporadic success as a pinch-hitting opener for TKR in the past couple of seasons, strolled out at number three with the home team’s score on 11-1 in the second over. Immediately, Narine took a liking to slow left-arm bowler Christopher Lamont, and his first three scoring shots read 4, 6 and 4.
Narine’s fourth ball was a telling one, as he miscued a shortish Lamont delivery high into the night’s sky and into the direction of the self-proclaimed ‘Universe Boss’ Chris Gayle. The Tallawahs captain, who has returned to his home franchise for CPL 2019 after a two-year foray with St Kitts and Nevis Patriots (SKNP), never looked settled under the steepler and subsequently bungled the chance.
Gayle’s dropped catch turned out to be a costly one for the Tallawahs. Narine hammered his way to 46 off 22 balls and shared in a 74-run partnership with Webster. The duo’s stance injected impetus into the TKR innings and placed the hosts in a position of strength at 85-2 in the ninth over.
Although Narine’s approach could appear quite reckless, Pollard indicated that the left-hander has been given the green light to play his shots at the top of the order. And last night, Narine definitely showed his destructive potential, hitting four fours and three sixes in his breezy stay at the crease.
“Special mention must be made to the way Narine came in that over and changed the entire momentum of the game. I thought that’s where [the game] shifted and that first six overs put us right in it,” Pollard said in a post-game chat with the media.
Narine was actually carded to open the batting, but due to an untimely bathroom break, Webster, who previously represented the Barbados Tridents, stepped up to the plate and opened with Lendl Simmons. It may be a formula for TKR to replicate as the tournament progresses—Narine batting at number three that is!
“Narine is one player who has the licence to out, and you never hear that being said in cricket,” Pollard said. “He has the licence to out because if we get 30 to 40 runs from him, we build momentum and you see what it could do for us. Yes, he’s a hit and miss but we’ll take that any day.”
Neesham, the Man of the Match from TKR’s win over SKNP on Wednesday, couldn’t capitalize on the impressive start as he was dismissed for six by off-spinner Steven Jacobs in the 10th over.
Webster, who took some time to settle into his work, immediately stepped on the accelerator as he took 16 runs off Shamar Springer in the subsequent over. The 24-year-old Webster also found an able partner in Denesh Ramdin (21 off 16), and the pair shared in a fourth-wicket stand of 47 from 30 balls.
By the time Ramdin had his stumps shattered by Russell in the 15th over, the score read 144-4 and the hosts looked to be eyeing a total of 200 with captain Pollard strolling out to the middle.
TKR were not quite able to reach the 200 mark, but a typically fiery cameo from Pollard (33 off 21) took the score up to 191 after the allotted 20 overs.
Last year, 223 wasn’t enough to overcome Russell and company. And with Gayle back in the set-up and players such as Glenn Philips, Rovman Powell and Chadwick Walton also in the top order, the TKR bowlers had to be on their ‘A’ game.
The TKR bowlers accepted the challenge, and the Tallawahs were precariously placed at 39-2 at the end of the power play. The dangerous Phillips went for just six when he had his leg stump castled by Narine in the third over. Meanwhile, Gayle’s stay at the crease was stopped on 28 by seamer Ali Khan.
The towering Jamaican was beginning to look ominous after dispatching both Khan and Pakistani pacer Muhammad Hasnain for massive sixes. But Khan had the last laugh in the sixth over when Gayle attempted another big heave, but substitute fielder Akeal Hosein fortuitously held on to the catch on the mid-wicket boundary.
“We lost too many early wickets and that kinda put us on the back foot,” Gayle said. “The wicket got slower as the game went on.”
Pollard, perhaps sensing that the visitors were struggling with the turning ball, opted to use the spin duo of Khary Pierre and Seekkuge Prasanna in tandem. They conceded just 19 runs between them from overs seven to 10. The pair struck up immediate chemistry too as Prasanna was soon flossing on Powell after Pierre took a simple catch to dismiss the dangerous Jamaican for the solitary run in the eighth over.
Kiwi batsman George Worker, who top-scored for the Tallawahs with 46 not out off 33 balls, joined Walton in the middle and the pair tried to repair the damage with an encouraging 49-run partnership before Narine returned in the 13th over to prize out the scalp of Walton for 28.
With a daunting 99 still needed off 42 balls, enter Superman: Andre ‘Dre Russ’ Russell.
Russell should have been headed back to the pavilion before he even reached double figures, however, Neesham badly misjudged a catch after running off the long-on boundary, and the Tallawahs talisman was able to live to see another day.
“I was put down first ball and I said to myself: ‘you know what, I’m going to make them pay for it’,” Russell said last year when he bludgeoned that remarkable century after being dropped by Ali Khan off the first ball he faced.
The full house at the Oval must have been wondering if it would be a case of déjà vu as the atmosphere became quite tense.
As the required run rate increased, Russell and Worker forced the issue. And the Jamaican, who received treatment after limping off the field towards the back end of the TKR innings, continued to live a charmed life as he threw the kitchen sink at everything.
By this time, Russell, who surprisingly started turning down sure singles, was dropped by Prasanna off the final ball of Narine’s spell in the 16th over. He was also dropped by Hosein in the 18th.
But with 50 needed off the final two overs, surely TKR could not let it slip through their fingers—though they seemed to be trying their utmost to do so.
Russell soldiered on as he struck two sixes and a four in the penultimate over. But his frenetic innings of 44 finally came to a halt in the final over when he slammed a Neesham delivery into the safe hands of Javon Searles at long-off.
The nail was finally driven into the coffin and TKR were able to ease to victory in the end, despite a sloppy fielding effort.
As his team looks to face off against St Lucia Zouks tomorrow, Pollard knows that TKR must sharpen up in the fielding department.
“Two wins at the start of a tournament, you’ll take that any day,” Pollard said. “Obviously, not as smooth as we would’ve liked […] we have areas to work on as you could see in the field. But having said that, the guys played well to beat a strong Tallawahs line-up.”
How will TKR fair now that their infectious leader and star all-rounder Dwayne Bravo has been ruled out for the remainder of the tournament?
“It’s something I think we’ve come to terms with. From the time he did the scan, and we got the results, we knew he was going to be out for the entire tournament with the surgery he had to do,” Pollard said. “Again, it’s a big blow for us. He was looking forward to captaining this team and bringing a couple of the local stars back into this pool. And sometimes when you plan—as I keep saying—God smiles.”
And although the Universe Boss tried to downplay the niggle sustained by the hobbling Russell, he’ll certainly be hoping that God smiles on the Tallawahs as well.
“Russell will be fine. It’s just one of those things,” Gayle said coyly. “We know Russell’s capability as well.”
As usual, Gayle was not lacking in confidence and said that opposing teams should be wary now that the Tallawahs have gotten a bad game out of the way.
“It’s the first game and [I] have no fingers to point, to be honest with you,” Gayle said. “I’m actually happy that the guys got a bit of a blowout. The preparations have been good, and I promise that the next game will be a totally different Tallawahs team. The next team should be worried about us.”
He added: “The last time I was captain of the Tallawahs we lost the first match but we actually went on to win the trophy, so I’m pretty confident.”
The Tallawahs may have lost the battle against TKR last night, but if Gayle is to be believed, they are only just readying their armour for the war.
Trinbago Knight Riders – 191/4 off 20 overs: Tion Webster 66*, Sunil Narine 46, Kieron Pollard 33; Steven Jacobs 1 for 14, Shamar Springer 1 for 30.
Jamaica Tallawahs 169/6 off 20 overs: George Worker 46*, Andre Russell 44, Chris Gayle 28; Sunil Narine 2 for 23, James Neesham 2 for 27.
Trinbago Knight Riders win by 22 runs.
Man of the Match: Sunil Narine