CPL semis: Top four hungry for 2020 title

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The Brian Lara Cricket Academy will witness its two most important games in the 2020 edition of the Hero Caribbean Premier League (CPL) thus far, as the Jamaica Tallawahs challenge the Trinbago Knight Riders while the Guyana Amazon Warriors take on the St Lucia Zouks today, for a spot in Thursday’s final.

Intensity and anxiety are expected to be at an all-time high as T20 players, both experienced and new, will approach the crease with conviction to lead their respective teams to victory.

Contrary to CPL’s past, each team will only have one shot at the final, so every box needs to be ticked, every t crossed and every i dotted, in order to pull off the perfect win.

‘Likkle but Tallawah’

For the Jamaica Tallawahs, who finished the preliminary round fourth, coming up against the table-topping Trinbago Knight Riders is a big deal and will require the best that the Jamaicans have to offer.

TAROUBA, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO – SEPTEMBER 05: Oshane Thomas (R) of Jamaica Tallawahs celebrates the dismissal of Johnson Charles of Barbados Tridents during the Hero Caribbean Premier League match 28 between Jamaica Tallawahs and Barbados Tridents at Brian Lara Cricket Academy on September 5, 2020 in Tarouba, Trinidad And Tobago. (Photo by Randy Brooks – CPL T20/CPL T20 via Getty Images)

Speaking at a virtual press conference on Monday, Captain Rovman Powell expressed that he was keen on winning and doing so convincingly.

“I think everything is in the balance, the team is very good and the guys are optimistic as it regards the semi-final, a big clash against the Trinbago Knight Riders.”

He continued, “To be honest, it feels good, because knowing the nature of competitions, teams rarely go through the entire competition without losing a game, maybe tomorrow is Trinidad’s bad game, hopefully it’s not. We want to beat Trinidad, but we want to beat them in a very good game. We’re not sitting down and hoping that it’s a bad game for them; it’s just that we’re trying to control the things that we have control over and hopefully, our star players can come to the party in a semi-final like this.”

When asked about standout players such as Oshane Thomas and Andre Russell, Powell shared that much is expected of the pair.

“It’s been both a selection tactic and a form issue. You know Oshane hasn’t taken the straps as we would want or as we’ve seen over the past few seasons, but, hopefully, if given the chance tomorrow, he can hit the ground,” he commented.

On Russell, he expressed, “Probably he’s hitting it one of the best he has ever. Dre Russ is the world’s best all-rounder and he’s the world’s best all-rounder for a reason. Andre is a performer and I just hope for the remaining games he will come to the party and give of his best.”

The perfectionist Knight Riders

On the other hand, three-time champions the Trinbago Knight Riders haven’t much to worry about, having tried and tested every member of their team so far.

TAROUBA, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO – SEPTEMBER 06: Sikandar Raza (L) of Trinbago Knight Riders celebrates the dismissal of Evin Lewis of St Kitts & Nevis Patriots during the Hero Caribbean Premier League match 29 between St Kitts & Nevis Patriots and Trinbago Knight Riders at Brian Lara Cricket Academy on September 6, 2020 in Tarouba, Trinidad And Tobago. (Photo by Randy Brooks – CPL T20/CPL T20 via Getty Images)

Although achieving a perfect 10 in the preliminary round, the Trinbago Knight Riders are focused on not appearing too confident as they approach the Tallawahs.

Coach Brendon McCullum stated, “The fact that the whole team has participated on the field and has taken their opportunities as well in some small or large ways, it means that the environment as a whole has really clicked. I couldn’t be more happy with how we’re tracking at the moment, as I say or stress it doesn’t guarantee ultimate success, but we’ve played well this season, the environment’s good, and the guys are incredibly hungry to try and regain the title which we lost last year.”

McCullum went on to share that their perfect streak has been a boost and praised the team for remaining resilient.

“It’s been a really good season so far from us, the guys have played exceptional cricket and to be sitting here on the eve of the semi-final with 10 from 10 is a magnificent effort. Because the conditions have been so extreme, you expect the results to sway a little bit, but the way the guys have gone about their work has been second to none,” he stated.

A second chance for Zouks

The St Lucia Zouks have only ever experienced the bliss of a semi-final once before in the tournament’s eight-year history, back in 2016, so they are the ones with a lot to prove come tomorrow. However, the Zouks are measuring up to the Guyana Amazon Warriors who are a staple at almost every CPL final.

TAROUBA, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO – SEPTEMBER 06: Darren Sammy (2R) and Kavem Hodge (R) of St Lucia Zouks celebrate the dismissal of Andre Russell of Jamaica Tallawahs during the Hero Caribbean Premier League match 30 between St Lucia Zouks and Jamaica Tallawahs at Brian Lara Cricket Academy on September 6, 2020 in Tarouba, Trinidad And Tobago. (Photo by Randy Brooks – CPL T20/CPL T20 via Getty Images)

Skipper Daren Sammy shared that there was no pre-existing strategy for the Zouks to get over this hurdle but to assess conditions quickly and execute in the best way possible.

“A lot of people have said a lot of things about the St Lucia Zouks and the performance in the history of the CPL, but I’m one who has always been confident and in our dressing room, I said the guys that we have in our squad this year are not superstars, but guys that can be very effective in these conditions.”

The St Lucian Captain uses their preliminary win over the Warriors as incentive to believe that the task can be repeated now, in a more crucial setting.

“I said, our first objective is to get to the play-offs and now we are here, our focus is on the Amazon Warriors. And we are planning how to come up with ways on how to defeat them. We’ve done that once before in this competition and we believe we can do it again,” he confided.

Warriors in familiar territory

The Guyana Amazon Warriors are no strangers to this stage of the tournament, and with a fair number of players who have experienced the semi-finals before, the Warriors are cognisant of what’s at stake.

Captain Chris Green commented on the Warriors’ unusual season in 2020, having lost four games and coming back with three wins on the trot, noting that the team have had a lot to learn from their unfortunate finish in 2019.

“It’s a different year, different circumstances. I think the guys really learnt a lot from the last two years, but last year in particular going through that run and losing the final hurdle really hurt us. But the realisation is we still achieved something really amazing. I think for us the build-up into this final has been a bumpy road and through those bumpy roads and journeys we’ve been able to learn a lot,” Green noted.

“I think a lot of teams have done it from the situation, but at the same time knowing that the other three teams left in this competition aren’t just going to roll over and give us this competition, we spoke about learning along the way, we spoke about peaking at the right time, sticking together and showing character. I think that’s been a key part of our success. Just taking this tournament one day at a time and our focus today is on training and our focus tomorrow (today) is on St Lucia.”

Concerning the overall disposition of the team, Green commented that the Warriors were confident and hyped to take on the challenge that the Zouks may pose.

“I really do believe that we’re in a really good place as a group. We’re a close-knit family; you know, we’re really just excited about this challenge and opportunity. Everyone’s confident in one another and we’ve been enjoying each other’s success and I think that’s an important part of going through on a successful campaign and the belief is certainly there,” he posited.

Will there be a spin factor?

Despite what the conditions may look like at the Brian Lara Cricket Academy today, each team will look to pack one spinner or more into their bowling arsenal. A number of the captains spoke on the chances and the performances of their outstanding spinners.

Green shared: “Spin for all teams has been playing a key part in obviously keeping the runs down and taking wickets. Imran Tahir, the wickets and numbers and quality of leg spinners speak for itself and he’s been key to our success and similarly, St Lucia playing a number of off-spinners and Javelle Glen has probably been a revelation for them. It’s going to be a spin vs spin, but I think it’s going to come down to the batting. The guys who can get in there, build a partnership and deliver.”

Meanwhile, Powell is sure that his combination of Sandeep Lamichhane and Mujeeb Ur Rahman have been the shining stars of the CPL thus far.

“I think they’ve been the two better spinners in the competition and we’re grateful to have them. Two more games potentially, we’ll look on one tomorrow (today) against Trinidad; hopefully, they can hit the straps and come with their best games. (Sandeep) not giving boundaries in the middle overs is all we ask for,” Powell bragged.

Sammy, however, likes the vibe and success that Javelle Glenn has brought to the side.

“Javelle every time he come on to bowl he brings this energy, this positive energy when he’s bowling and it’s infectious, and the team goes with it. I really needed somebody that could spin the ball away from the rightie and hit into the big side, and he was the guy,” he said.

The Knight Riders have been without their chief spinner, Sunil Narine for a few games; however, McCullum hopes that he will be in shape to play today. Nonetheless, he was cautious to share that the team are against pressuring Narine, so he would be saved for “a more major tournament like the IPL”.

The Jamaica Tallawahs and the Trinbago Knight Riders will fight for their spot in the final today at 10am (10:00h) while the Guyana Amazon Warriors and the St Lucia Zouks will battle at 5:30pm (17:30h). The final is scheduled for Thursday, September 10.