By John Ramsingh in Port of Spain
The long-awaited Hero Caribbean Premier League (CPL) opens tonight in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, with the first of 34 exciting matches.
Defending champions and pre-tournament favourites, the Trinbago Knight Riders begin their title defence in ideal conditions – playing at home and against a team that has only beaten them once in three years.
The St Lucia Zouks got the better of Trinbago Knight Riders last year in a match reduced to 9 overs a-side to taste victory for the first time in three years, but it was not enough to prevent the Dwayne Bravo-led side from lifting the championship.
At a press conference on the eve of tonight’s opening battle, the Trinbago Knight Riders (TKR) skipper, who is well aware of his team’s stats and history, said they were very focused on the task at hand.
“We are the defending champions yes, but that’s a year ago, we got to forget about that… it’s very important to start well in these tournaments.”
The world rated all-rounder went on: “All the teams are aware of our records in Trinidad (and Tobago), but those things don’t matter, what matters is us as a group getting together and trying to click as early as possible.”
Both sides feature fresh faces and the opening game promises to be electric to set the tone for the remainder of the matches. Also present at the press conference were Trinbago Knight Riders Coach Simon Helmot, St Lucia Zouks Captain Darren Sammy and their coach, Stuart Williams, who all told the media they intended to play the game in the middle and not on paper.
Sammy said it was important for the Zouks to start well and he would be looking to put the new guys under pressure.
When asked how his team will deal with the ‘Narine factor’, the two- time World T20 winning Captain said: “[Sunil] Narine is number one in the world and has done well wherever he plays and we will treat him with that respect, but ,at the end of the day, it’s a contest between bat and ball… When they come at us, we just have to absorb (the pressure) and when the momentum is with us, we will take it to them.”
Sammy acknowledged that with the players from the West Indies World T20 winning team being joined by the international picks, this year’s CPL is certainly the biggest yet. The St Lucian said that the CPL’s atmosphere, especially in Trinidad, was one you won’t find anywhere else.
Trinbago Knight Riders Coach Helmot noted that the consistency of the skipper worked well for the team and he was excited about the competition and the prospects of what was about to start. He mentioned that the talent in both teams and across the tournament was exciting, including the likes of Sammy, Bravo, Shane Watson, Mike Hussey, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Brendon Mc Cullum, Umar Akmal, Hashim Amla and Narine back at home. Helmot charged fans to come out and support their teams.
Zouks Head Coach Williams, a former West Indies opener, in offering his overview of his team this year, said the overseas talent was evenly distributed throughout all the teams in CPL, but the Zouks had home-grown superstars as well.
“While the Zouks have done a great job in recruiting quality overseas players, we have our local stars who just won a championship in the two-time championship captain Darren Sammy, Andre Fletcher and Johnson Charles. And even though we have the overseas players and we are looking forward for them to set the example and lead from in front, we are still looking for our home-grown talent to excel and develop as well throughout the tournament.
The first ball at the historic Queen’s Park Oval is at 21:00h, and the home team will be looking to pick up where they left off last year when they defeated the Barbados Tridents in the final at the same venue.
More so with the inclusion of Mc Cullum, Amla, Akmal, Ramnaresh Sarwan, and Colin Munro to go with Dwayne and Darren Bravo, the batting looks well set; with Narine, Kevon Cooper, Sulieman Benn, Ronsford Beaton and Nikita Miller, the bowling department seems like it will take care of itself as well.
TRINBAGO KNIGHT RIDERS: Dwayne Bravo (Captain); Brendon McCullum; Darren Bravo; Sunil Narine; Hashim Amla; Umar Akmal; Kevon Cooper; Sulieman Benn; Colin Munro; Anton Devcich; Ronsford Beaton; Nikita Miller; Javon Searles; William Perkins; Yannick Cariah; Ramnaresh Sarwan; Hamza Tariq; Anderson Phillip
ST LUCIA ZOUKS: Darren Sammy (Captain); David Miller; Shane Watson; Michael Hussey; Johnson Charles; Andre Fletcher; Morne Morkel; Denesh Ramdin; Miguel Cummins; Derone Davis; Grant Elliott; Kristopher Ramsaran; Shane Shillingford; Delorn Johnson; Kyle Mayers; Keddy Lesporis; Nitish Kumar; Gidron Pope