By Akshay Gopalakrishnan
When the 2017 CPL is looked back on down the years, the good-humoured personal battle between Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo could be one of the most endearing and jocular snapshots from the tournament. The two have used every opportunity to rib each other. On Saturday, they will resume their game of one-upmanship, but this time the tussle is likely to be more serious, with the title at stake.
After five weeks of music, dancing, flag-waving and cricket, the CPL party bus makes its last stop in Trinidad, and promises to arrive in high spirits at the Brian Lara Stadium. It will be the table-toppers of the league stage, the two most consistent teams in the tournament that will battle it out for the title. For St Kitts and Nevis Patriots, this is uncharted territory, having made the final for the first time. Up against them are the team from Trinidad, the hosts, who are vying for their second title, following their success in 2015 as the Trinidad and Tobago Red Steel.
This will be a battle between Patriots’ batting and Knight Riders’ bowling. Patriots’ imperious opening pair offers ominous signs. Gayle and Evin Lewis have a combined average of 56.15, strike rate of 154, and both figure among the top-five run-scorers of the tournament. How do the Knight Riders stop them? Will they unleash Sunil Narine early? Will Dwayne Bravo, the tournament’s second-highest wicket-taker bowl himself upfront?
Knight Riders, on the other hand, are far from a comfortable place with the bat. Their experiment to open the batting with Narine has fallen flat, with him returning 156 runs in 12 innings, with over half of those runs coming in one outing.
They were hit further when Brendon McCullum was ruled out of the tournament after copping a blow on his forearm. His absence was telling in the first Qualifier against the same opposition, when they slipped to 6 for 3 and never recovered. Knight Riders now have to choose between retaining their faith in Narine and trying out a new combination in a final, in their bid to prevent Patriots from accomplishing an encore.
Trinbago Knight Riders WLLWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
St Kitts and Nevis Patriots WWLLW
In the spotlight
Gayle was unbeaten in his last two innings. That included a grinding half-century in the first Qualifier that lifted his team to a reasonable score that proved 38 too many for Knight Riders. With three half-centuries in his last five innings, he brings with him good form apart from a wealth of T20 experience.
Yasir Shah‘s first match for Knight Riders, as a replacement for countryman Shadab Khan, was unspectacular as he bowled only two overs and leaked 21 runs. However, there is little doubt that he is still an important member of the Knight Riders side and will be expected to do a better job in the final. Yasir’s deceptive angles and variations may just be what Knight Riders seek to curb a strong Patriots line-up.
Both William Perkins and Hamza Tariq have played one match each this season and neither did anything significant. Perkins made way for Tariq in the second Qualifier, but Knight Riders could undo the change for the final.
Trinbago Knight Riders (probable): 1 Sunil Narine, 2 Colin Munro, 3 Hamza Tariq/William Perkins, 4 Darren Bravo, 5 Dwayne Bravo (capt), 6 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 7 Daniel Christian, 8 Yasir Shah, 9 Javon Searles, 10 Kevon Cooper, 11 Ronsford Beaton
Patriots have no reason to tinker with their XI.
St Kitts and Nevis Patriots (probable): 1 Chris Gayle (capt), 2 Evin Lewis, 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Brandon King, 5 Carlos Brathwaite, 6 Mohammad Nabi, 7 Jonathan Carter, 8 Devon Thomas (wk), 9 Ben Hilfenhaus, 10 Sheldon Cottrell, 11 Tabraiz Shamsi
Pitch and conditions
Batsmen have had a mixed time in Tarouba so far. While the first Qualifier was low-scoring, the scores improved in the next two matches. Clouds are expected to linger around all day and rain could affect proceedings.
Stats and trivia
- Gayle and Lewis have both scored over 350 runs each and have seven fifties between them from 19 innings. None of the other Patriots batsmen has scored 125 runs or scored a half-century.
- Mohammad Hafeez has the best economy rate this CPL season, of 5.19 from 21 overs.
- The only previous time Dwayne Bravo led a side to the final of a T20 tournament was in 2015, and his team, Trinidad & Tobago Red Steel, had won. (ESPNcricinfo)