Half centuries by Lendl Simmons and Denesh ‘Shotta’ Ramdin led the Trinbago Knight Riders to their third win on the trot with a convincing victory over the St Lucia Zouks at the Queen’s Park Oval on a searing Sunday afternoon.
The signs are ominous for the other teams in the competition as captain Kieron Pollard’s men have their eyes set on a hat trick of Caribbean Premier League (CPL) titles with the likes of Darren Bravo and Colin Munro still left to join the team after injury enforced lay offs.
St Lucia posted 167 for 5 but the Knight Riders—on the back of some prodigious hitting from Simmons—set about the total without much fuss, as they brought up the required 168 with 7 wickets to spare off 17.5 overs.
Man of the match Simmons top scored with 63 in a belligerent innings that included 5 fours and 5 sixes. TKR is the journeyman opener’s fifth CPL franchise and, after being initially un-drafted in 2019, he is now happy to be home.
“After being overlooked and now getting the chance to play the full CPL, of course I’m looking forward to it,” Simmons told the media after the game. “I played with most of the guys [and] I grew up playing with Pollard [and] Ramdin… It’s been an honour to play for TKR. I’ve always wanted to play for TKR and now I’m getting that opportunity and I’m looking forward to it.”
Simmons’ stay with TKR was initially intended to end on Sunday when Kiwi Colin Munro returns from international duty. However, a tournament-ending injury to Dwayne Bravo opened the door for him to stick around.
Based on his performance in the blistering heat of around 40 degrees at the Queen’s Park Oval, many were left wondering who would be able to stop the TKR party this year.
Within the first few overs of the match, the likely spoiler appeared to the burly Rahkeem Cornwall.
The new West Indies Test player showed that he had the shots for any format as he carved Khary Pierre and Mohammed Hasnain apart in the early exchanges with a flurry of classy shots to put the Zouks at 41 for 0 off the first three overs.
Pollard turned to spinner Sunil Narine to stem the tide and was immediately rewarded. Cornwall got down low and tried to slog sweep but was struck on the back leg and sent packing for 33 off 12.
New batsman Jon Campbell kept the momentum with Andre Fletcher as they added 30 to the score before Pollard showed his captaincy quality yet again. Sensing an opportunity, he brought himself into the attack to mix things up on the dry pitch.
Struggling to time the clever changes of pace, Fletcher fell into Pollard’s trap as he swung hard and sent a catch straight at the perfectly positioned Pierre. Once again, the Zouks were losing their mini battles.
It’s a problem that captain Darren Sammy is keen to fix.
“When we have the momentum, we have to try and keep it as long as possible,” said Sammy. “That’s been the song that we’ve been singing for the past two years. We get ourselves in good positions and when the pressure is on we don’t tap into that. We don’t respond to the pressure well.
“Two games now Cornwall has given us that start. He has played his role. I would really love for him to continue but yeah we cannot rely on one person. As we see in the Trinidad team [with] performances coming from difference players; that’s what helps you win matches. It’s something we have to look forward on and correct that.”
At that stage of the match, Campbell was joined in the middle by Najibullah Zadran. Rebuilding was the plan and luck seemed to be finally on the Zouks’ side as Narine grassed a catch off Campbell at mid-off.
It got worse for Narine thereafter as Zadran sized him up and started the acceleration. Six, four, four. A cracking pull for a maximum and two boundaries on either side of the wicket accented an expensive 15 run over.
Jimmy Neesham was next to get toted over the boundary rope by the aggressive Afghanistan international.
Two deliveries later though, he was back in the shed. Trying to get a hold of a slower Hasnain delivery, Zadran only found the steely hands of fielder Javon Searles on the long-on boundary, who did a great job to make up ground diving forward.
118 for 3 with only four overs left.
The Zouks, in need of a big finish, turned to Sammy with Campbell ready to start going for it at the other end. They put on a partnership of 39 with Campbell’s wagon wheel showing generous scoring all around the park while Sammy had back to back maximums off Hasnain to lift the score to 150.
With DJ Bravo unavailable, Neesham has taken up the responsibility of bowling at the death with relish. First, he had Sammy caught on the boundary by Searles and then he bagged top scorer Campbell lbw while trying to play an innocuous reverse hit.
Neesham has now taken two wickets in the final over of each of TKR’s three games so far is definitely endearing himself to the Oval faithful.
St Lucia finished their innings on 167 and may have thought that it would pose a task for the Knight Riders with their solid bowling attack. But Simmons had other ideas.
He was into the act immediately as he chipped down the wicket to launch Thisara Perera for six. Narine followed suit with a sweetly timed flick that soared over the boundary rope, although he was soon accounted for by Kesrick Williams.
Narine was followed back in the pavilion by Tion Webster, who fell to Fawad Ahmed’s first delivery—a trick the bowler performed repeatedly last season for TKR.
In 2018, Pollard and Simmons were in the blue of the St Lucia and Fawad was on his way to picking up 22 wickets and a title with the Knight Riders. How quickly some things change.
For Fawad, that first ball wicket was the highlight of his afternoon. Simmons, in no mood for meddling, took apart the leg spinner, particularly in the seventh over. With the ball probably appearing as large as a melon by then, the Trinidadian struck consecutive sixes on the onside in an over that went for 16 runs. Obed McCoy felt his wrath in the next over as he raised his bat for a well played 50, after upper-cutting the pacer over extra cover for another boundary.
The score was now 77 for 2 off nine overs and the home team were well on course for victory.
Sammy returned to his talisman Fawad to break the deadlock but Ramdin would have none of it. After Simmons went inside out for a picturesque shot through cover, ‘Shotta’ slashed the spinner through the covers for four before sweeping his next ball googly for six.
Simmons’ dancing feet finally got the better of him in the next over. As he waltzed down the pitch, Kavem Hodge read the play and bowled full and wide. Simmons could not reach it and Fletcher whipped off the bails.
It was a bittersweet end to a great knock.
That wicket ushered in Pollard, who finished the game manfully with Ramdin at his side. They ticked the score along up until the 17th over when Ramdin slammed Williams for 3 fours which were preceded by a flat six over midwicket by Pollard.
TKR now needed just seven runs off the last three overs. Shotta brought up his 50 to level the scores before a wide McCoy delivery decided the match.
This was a professional display by the defending champions and a warning to everyone in the path of the Knight Riders. Beware!
St Lucia Zouks – 167 for 5 off 20 overs: Jon Campbell 43, Rahkeem Cornwall 33; Jimmy Neesham 2 for 33, Kieron Pollard 1 for 9;
Trinbago Knight Riders – 168 for 3 off 17.5 overs: Lendl Simmons 63, Denesh Ramdin 50; Kavem Hodge 1 for 30, Kesrick Williams 1 for 31.