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CPL 2020: Tale of two champions; are Tallawahs troubles a threat to TKR’s triumph?

Where on earth is Chris ‘Universe Boss’ Gayle? More importantly, where has he left the two-time CPL champions, the Jamaica Tallawahs? And why?

Not, mind you, why has he left the franchise—that, his version of it at any rate, is already a matter of public record. My why is why has his departure left the unit in the shambles in which it seemingly is.

Photo: Jamaican star Chris Gayle left the Tallawahs in acrimonious circumstances before the start of the 2020 season.

After finishing dead last in the 2019 edition, remember, the Tallawahs announced that they had let go of Gayle ‘to rebuild for the upcoming season’.

Not happy with the treatment meted out to him by the franchise, Gayle absolved owner Kris Persaud but blamed the pair of chief executive officer Jeff Miller and Ramnaresh Sarwan, training his cannon narrowly on his former West Indies teammate—who was then the assistant to the team’s head coach, Floyd Reifer.

Reifer remains in charge but Sarwan is now Tallawahs history. Gayle too is history and soon the franchise’s second talisman will be Tallawahs history as well.

Andre Russell, who has described the unit as ‘unprofessional’ and ‘the weirdest franchise that I have ever played in’, might well have expected to inherit the captaincy mantle after Gayle’s acrimonious departure.

He did not. He most likely will not. He has already announced his intention to part ways with the unit.

“[…] This will be my last [season],” he told espncricinfo’s Nagraj Gollapudi in April, “because I’ve been getting mixed up with all this shit that is happening and I can’t be playing cricket and I’m not comfortable.”

Photo: Jamaicans Andre Russell (right) and Chris Gayle have an on-field exchange during their time together at the Tallawahs.

This shit?

“I felt like a first-class player that just made his debut one game ago,” the explosive, high-energy all-rounder explained, pointing out that he was ‘not involved in anything whatsoever’ as regards the franchise’s plans.

“Your opinion is not valuable. That’s how I was treated.”

According to Russell, it was Reifer who selected Rovman Powell for the captaincy position on entirely non-cricketing grounds. Shades of the pre-Frank Worrell West Indies even though in this case colour of skin—clearly!—was not, as it so often the case in Jamaica, a factor.

Even if the Tallawahs’ disarray and continuing underachievement does in some ways resemble that of the 1950s West Indian teams, Powell is no Frank Worrell.

Just 27, he has 670 ODI and 328 T20I runs and three ODI and four T20I wickets and is still to wear a West Indies Test cap. Overall in T20s, his record is hardly outstanding, his 72 matches yielding 1179 runs at an average of just over 23 and 16 wickets at a 10.19 economy rate.

Photo: Jamaica Tallawahs batsman Rovman Powell plays an attacking stroke during CPL action against the Guyana Amazon Warriors at the Guyana National Stadium in Providence, Guyana on 7 July 2016.
(Copyright Randy Brooks/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

“He and coach Reifer have a good relationship,” Russell told Gollapudi. “He (Reifer) don’t want me as the captain because he wants to have someone he can actually talk to.”

So far, the coach’s choice has not paid dividends.

On Thursday, the seemingly rudderless Tallawahs ship sailed belatedly into the 2020 CPL final four harbour thanks largely to the continuing ineptitude of fellow strugglers St Kitts & Nevis Patriots and the implosion of defending champions Barbados Tridents.

With eight games already completed in the qualifying league, Powell’s side had a mere seven points and a dreadful record of achievement. The batsmen had so far managed to reach 25 or more runs only 15 times, Glen Phillips (5) and Andre Russell (3) accounting for more than half of those. Along with Phillips (248, ave 41.33) and Russell (166, ave. 83), the only batsmen to have three-digit aggregates were Asif Ali (109, ave. 18.16) and Nkrumah Bonner (107, ave 26.75).

Of the 47 wickets they had so far claimed, wrist-spinners Mujeeb Ur Rahman (13) and Sandeep Lamichhane (10) had accounted for almost exactly half.

Photo: Jamaica Tallawahs’ Jermaine Blackwood is bowled attempting an extra cover drive off TKR left-arm finger-spinner Khary Pierre during CPL action at the Brian Lara Academy in Tarouba on 1 September 2020.
Looking on is TKR wicketkeeper Tim Seifert. TKR won by 19 runs.
(Copyright CPL 2020)

Powell’s individual record read 11 overs, 109 runs, 0 wkts with the ball and 66 runs at an average of 9.42 and his 2020 scores read 26, 8, 23, 2, 4, 1 and 2.

On Saturday, in the penultimate league game versus the Barbados Tridents, Jermaine Blackwood (74) and Russell (54) got half-centuries to see their side to a better-than-decent 161.

I had picked the Tallawahs to get past the ‘dispirited defending champions’ and remain in with a chance of finishing in third spot above the Zouks. And, at the halfway stage, it looked as though my prediction had been spot on.

A Tallawahs win would have meant the possibility of a face-off with the high-flying TKR in Thursday’s final. What better way for Russell to sign off a highlight-reel three-year stay with the Tallawahs than to damblay his destructive 121 off 40 balls at the Queen’s Park Oval in August 2018 and wrest the trophy from the seemingly two-handed grasp of the perhaps overconfident, three-time title-holders, the home side?

And for captain Powell to stake a claim as his own man rather than as Reifer’s puppet?

Photo: Barbados Tridents captain Jason Holder (centre) celebrates a scalp against the St Lucia Zouks during 2020 CPL action.
(Copyright CPL 2020)

But it was not to be. On a pitch that offered them no special assistance, for all their skill and earlier success, the Tallawahs spinners could make little impression on the Tridents batsmen.

And, having cleaned up top-scorer Blackwood, Tridents captain Jason Holder led from the front to earn the Player-of-the-Match award. Liberated by his team’s elimination, he played with a new-found freedom and fluency, thumping nine fours and three sixes in an impressive 69 off 42 balls to see his side coast to their not unchallenging target.

So there will be no final showdown; it has moved forward two days to Tuesday’s semi-final.

Still, the big question remains this: which Tallawahs will turn up? Particularly given the reality of a much diminished squad for the 2021—Covid permitting, of course!—competition, they would certainly love to sign off with a flourish.

Even if Powell cannot raise his own game, can he rouse his men to a level that will allow them at least to contend?

Will we get a whimper or a bang? A last hurrah or a hoarse harrumph?

One man’s cards are on the table.

Photo: Jamaica Tallawahs star Andre Russell.
(via Mykhel.com)

“I’m a guy that play to win,” Russell said on Instagram some time ago. “And I’ve won 13 championships [T20 titles]. So, I don’t play to lose.”

Here’s the rub: the TKR leaders, Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo, don’t either.

About Earl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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