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CPL 2020: Will Zouks fire and team spirit suffice to stop speeding Trinbago train?

Rahkeem Cornwall flings, using the term loosely, his 305-lb frame low to his right at gully to grab and smother an Imran Tahir edge. It’s all over—the Guyana Amazon Warriors innings, not the frame!—for a mere 55.

For the first time ever, the St Lucia Zouks are into the CPL final.

Two days earlier, up against the Jamaica Tallawahs in a game of no importance to the final standings, Zouks captain Daren Sammy had leaned low to scoop up in both hands an Andre Russell edge off Zahir Khan.

Photo: St Lucia Zouks players congratulate Rahkeem Cornwall (centre) during their CPL semifinal win over GAW.
(Copyright CPL 2020)

Off the previous ball, the 38-year-old former West Indies all-formats captain had flung himself to his left to snaffle with his left hand an edge off the bat of opposing skipper Rovman Powell. His reaction time was Ato Boldonesque. Or, more relevantly perhaps, Dwayne Bravoesque.

The reaction of the whole team, led in every sense by Sammy, was carnivalesque. Think John Goddard’s team beating England at Lord’s in 1950. Or Brian Lara’s team scoring a record 418 to beat Australia in Antigua in 2003.

There is no missing the vibrant, almost palpable esprit de corps that fires up and unites this Zouks team and makes them one. The burning question, however, is this: is it enough to make them win, to get them past Kieron Pollard’s so-far-rampant Trinbago Knight Riders in tomorrow’s final?

Selflessly, Sammy does not take the credit for spawning all this positivity; its source, he implies, is outside of him.

“Javelle (Glen),” he told an interviewer, “every time he comes on to bowl, “he brings this type of energy—positive energy—and it’s infectious and the team goes with it.”

True perhaps. But there’s no underestimating the former WI skipper’s role in maximising and optimising it.

Photo: St Lucia Zouks bowler Mark Deyal celebrates during their semifinal win over the Guyana Amazon Warriors in CPL 2020 action.
(Copyright CPL 2020)

Yesterday, when Man-of-the-Match Mark Deyal put his body on the line at long-on to stop a well-hit lofted drive from going over the boundary ropes, Sammy ran all the way from the covers just to give him a fist bump.

And when Andre Fletcher’s smart, split-second stumping of Kevin Sinclair had to be adjudicated by the third umpire, as soon as the dreaded three-letter word finally appeared on the big screen, Sammy led the organised, choreographed ‘Eldorado’ celebration involving the full XI.

“You [have] seen the way we played throughout this competition,” he said before yesterday’s semi-final. “You know, especially when we’re out there in the field as a unit, I can’t stress enough on how my men, especially my bowlers, have responded in these conditions.

“And the way we defended low totals. And we have to do it two more times to win this competition.”

So, one down, one to go. Spoiler alert: it’s against the so-far-unbeaten home team.

Psychologically, all can see, the Zouks are primed and ready to go into battle. The bad news is that so were GAW, who made only 55 in the semi-final, and the Tallawahs, who fared rather better, getting to 107. Even if one agrees with the argument that the Jamaican outfit was lacking in self-belief, that is not true of GAW.

Photo: Trinbago Knight Riders bowler Sunil Narine (centre) is congratulated by his teammates during their semifinal win over Jamaica Tallawahs in 2020 CPL action.
(Copyright CPL 2020)

Prompt redemption for their 2019 failure beckoned; yet, they were found wanting.

In his post-match interview, skipper Green, who had not been lacking in pre-match confidence, said that he was ‘incredibly proud of our guys. Everything I asked of them, they gave 100%’.

The bottom line, however, is now writ in stone: The Zouks ‘completely outplayed us tonight’.

So for the Zouks, the heart of the matter thus becomes this: positivity and enthusiasm apart, do they have the cricketing goods to put a spoke in TKR’s wheels?

Their astute skipper would probably side-step that question. But, in responding to one put to him in the run-up to yesterday’s semi-final, he may have provided some relevant thoughts on the subject.

Asked whether he plans to continue playing or whether retirement is on the cards, he offered this:

Photo: St Lucia Zouks Daren Sammy.
(Copyright CPL 2020)

“If we win the cup (sic), I will definitely have a think about it—[and] I know I’m closer to retirement than playing more T20 cricket.”

Actually, Sammy offered just 24 words without any punctuation. I submit that keeping the two thoughts separate merely serves to disguise where he really stands on the issue, to obscure his view that he is just one match away.

Before yesterday’s game, he revealed post-semi-final, he had told Zouks manager Rawl Lewis: “I’ve a feeling we’ll restrict them under 100. But I did not foresee 55.”

Sammy also revealed that he had geed up his team in the dressing-room by telling them that ‘…this is not what we came here for. We didn’t come here to celebrate a semi-final’.

The rubber, however, does not meet the road in the dressing-room but out in the middle of the Brian Lara Academy arena. And, to knowingly mix my metaphors, the tale of the tape tells an unencouraging story.

In both league encounters this season, Sammy’s men have come out second-best. They lost Match 13 on 26 August by 6 wkts and Match 27 last weekend by 23 runs. They have generally struggled to post big totals but have sometimes battled brilliantly to defend low ones.

Photo: TKR batsmen Kieron Pollard (left) and Khary Pierre exchange a bounce after getting runs off Barbados Tridents captain Jason Holder during CPL action at the Queen’s Park Oval on 29 August 2020.
(Copyright Randy Brooks/CPL T20 via Getty Images)

The Zouks’ 172 vs the Patriots in Match 9 on 22 August 22 is the fifth highest total this season. The top four all belong to TKR, who have only once looked vulnerable in a chase—winning anyway.

Sammy has already dealt with that issue.

“You don’t carry anything from before into the finals,” he has sagely observed. “It’s a clean slate. [What really matters is] whoever plays good cricket on the day on Thursday.

“We’re going to come with the same attitude.”

As, unfortunately for Sammy and the Zouks, are Pollard’s TKR.

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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