By Sherdon Cowan
(Jamaica Observer) What previously seemed like an easy route to the play-offs for the Jamaica Tallawahs, on their home leg of the Hero Caribbean Premier League (CPL) Twenty20 tournament, has now become a mountainous task.
And things will by no means be easier for the defending champions when they oppose the formidable St Kitts and Nevis Patriots in the 26th match of the tournament at Sabina Park today.
First ball is 6:00 pm.
The two-time champion franchise came to Jamaica with a record of four wins from six games and was on the cusp of a play-off spot when they improved that record with a commanding six-wicket win over St Lucia Stars in the first of their four home games.
But they suffered a slight setback when going down by 36 runs to leaders Trinbago Knight Riders on 16 points last Saturday, after being asked to chase the joint-highest total of 208.
Now, the third-placed Tallawahs, on 10 points, will be hoping to make amends and, by extension, turn the tables on the Chris Gayle-led Patriots, if they are to progress to the play-offs.
However, with the destructive Gayle being bang in form and his Patriots’ balanced batting and bowling line-up riding high, a Tallawahs victory is not guaranteed, especially after falling by 37 runs in their previous meeting at Warner Park.
Despite boasting a few classy batsmen in their line-up, the Tallawahs appear lacking in the bowling department, which means Captain Kumar Sangakkara will again be looking to chase, should he win the toss.
“St Kitts has been playing really well; I think they are being beautifully led by Chris. And even though we had a close game, we knew we were short and we dropped a few chances in that game.
“But if we can keep them to anything under 180-185, I think it would be a great game… either set anything up to 180 or limit them to that. So it’s a tough game for us, we know that, but if we play smart and we play well then we can compete really well,” Sangakkara told journalists at a press conference at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel yesterday.
Heavy reliance will again be placed on the former Sri Lankan wicketkeeper/batsman, as well as openers Lendl Simmons and young New Zealander Glenn Phillips for an aggressive start at the top of the order.
Local boys Andre McCarthy and Rovman Powell as well as Jonathan Foo will also be expected to play crucial roles with the bat, should they be called upon, while Kesrick Williams, Pakistani Mohammed Sami and Krishmar Santokie will carry the weight of the attack with the ball.
“We had a balanced team when we had Imad (Wasim) as a good all-rounder who could bowl a few overs in your top seven; so unfortunately we lost that and St Kitts has that.
“So, it has kind of shifted the balance of our team. But, having said that, we have some great players, great young talent and senior players who have set a great example. So for us it is just about trusting ourselves, trusting our ability, and go out there to play free, fun cricket because that’s what T20 is all about,” Sangakkara added.
Meanwhile the brawny Patriots team, lined with some dangerous hitters, are currently in second position on 11 points and have already joined the Knight Riders in securing a play-off spot.
Though victory today is not crucial, it would add impetus to their already impressive form going forward as they seek to secure a first-ever hold on the prestigious title.
“We are happy to be in the play-off as one of the teams that has actually qualified already, but at the same time tomorrow’s (today’s) game is very important because we are all playing for that second position. Jamaica still has a strong chance to even make it to the top two, so tomorrow’s game is very important to both teams and I am looking forward to it. And hopefully it would be a good game, and we are looking to get these two points,” said Gayle, the former Tallawahs captain.
The last two games at Sabina Park have reaped high totals and, with his familiarity of the surface and his hitting prowess, Gayle is anticipating another high-scoring contest.
“Last year we didn’t have such high scoring games, but hopefully we can continue that starting tomorrow. Jamaica has been playing good cricket and even though they lost the game (at Warner Park) they came pretty close, and they are not a team to underrate.
“But like I said, I know these guys and they are very capable of turning things around, so it is going to be a tough game,” Gayle noted.
Pakistani Mohammad Hafeez has returned to bolster the Patriots batting line-up and he, along with Gayle, Evin Lewis, Carlos Brathwaite, Jonathan Carter and Afghan Mohammad Nabi, will be expected to do the brunt of the damage with the bat if the Patriots are to get home.
Nabi, Brathwaite and Samuel Badree will pose the greatest danger in the bowling department.
Jamaica Tallawahs Squad: Mohammad Sami, Kumar Sangakkara (Capt), Lendl Simmons, Glenn Phillips, Jonathan Foo, Krishmar Santokie, Garey Mathurin, Mahmudullah Riyad, Kennar Lewis, Odean Smith, Gidron Pope, Andre McCarthy, Kesrick Williams, Jon-Russ Jaggesar, Rovman Powell, Oshane Smith.
St Kitts and Nevis Patriots Squad: Chris Gayle (Capt), Mohammad Hafeez, Samuel Badree, Devon Thomas, Mohammad Nabi, Carlos Brathwaite, Jonathan Carter, Evin Lewis, Nikhil Dutta, Sheldon Cottrell, Fabian Allen, Brandon King, Tabraiz Shamsi, Hasan Ali, Shamarh Brooks, Jeremiah Louis.