Tears and champagne flowed at the Brian Lara Academy early Sunday morning after the Trinbago Knight Riders beat St Kitts and Nevis Patriots by three wickets to clinch their second Hero Caribbean Premier League (CPL) title in front of their adoring fans. For the team, it was just reward for a near perfect tournament where they topped the preliminary standings for its entirety.But for Man of the Match Kevon Cooper, the victory was his second breakthrough moment in a nine-year career that has had its ups and downs. The man dubbed ‘Super Cooper’ by Rajasthan Royals fans in the Indian Premier League (IPL) over four years ago hasn’t been ‘Super Cooper’ for over four years. Problems with his bowling action which originated in the 2011 Caribbean T20 Tournament (which was replaced by the CPL) continued to surface, sidelining the Arimian for short periods and frustrating his promising career.
On Saturday night, Cooper continued his solid showing with the ball with match-best figures of two wickets for 12 runs, taking his tally for the CPL to 12 wickets (tied for fifth highest) with an economy rate of just 7.02 runs per over and the fifth best bowling average (15.41). All that good work would have been forgotten though had he not come to the rescue with the bat to save the Knight Riders. Cooper lashed an explosive 29 from just 14 balls, clearing the ropes for two crucial sixes and adding two fours as well. Bursting with joy at taking the Knight Riders across the finish line, Cooper also burst into tears while thinking of all he had been through.
“Well for me, I was being emotional because I’ve been here with this team from day one - five years. I’ve been through ups and downs in my career with my bowling action. Went through (fixing) it many times and a day like this in a big final, to contribute to my team is always something special. It just shows I’m really a strong person. No matter what comes my way I always try to overcome that hurdle,” he said.
Cooper came to the crease with the hosts slipping to defeat on 90 for seven in the 15th over in pursuit of 136. Alongside wicketkeeper/batsman Denesh Ramdin, the pair batted sensibly but the equation was still tough with 33 needed in the last three overs. Patriots pacer Sheldon Cottrell, who had earlier done devastating damage with two wickets in the second over of the TKR reply, looked to be close to inflicting the fatal blow with a brilliant 18th over. Cooper would have none of it though, slicing a drive for an astonishing six over the point region, holding his pose for the cameras. This was his moment. An over that was going for just five runs went for 11 and TKR were back in the match. Next over, Cooper dismantled a nervous Ben Hilfenhaus to send the Knight Riders fans in a frenzy as the match swung decisively in their favour. Two wides, a no ball and a Free Hit did Patriots no favours - neither did the unforgiving blade of Cooper’s bat. He lashed the Australian pacer for a six and two fours to help win the match with an over to spare as Hilfenhaus went for 22.
As TKR players stormed the field to celebrate their amazing victory, an emotional Cooper bent to the ground and kissed the pitch as tears freely flowed down his face. In euphoria, his teammates jumped all over him to congratulate him, while his captain Dwayne Bravo, perhaps sensing what this meant for him, pat him on the back.
“As I said before, I’ve been here from day one so you’ve seen the good side and the bad side. Our team spirit this year was something tremendous; the way Bravo led the team; our new coach (Simon Katich) coming in for the first time, and even our owners, the support they gave us throughout the tournament was excellent.”
Is ‘Super Cooper’ back?
“Hopefully he’s back. I haven’t scored runs in a long time. I started off my career as an all-rounder - a genuine all-rounder. My batting has falling off a bit but in a big final like this where my team needed me, I put up my hand. It is a great feeling,” he declared.Speaking after the match, Ramdin, whose patient 26 not out from 31 balls (no boundaries) anchored the chase, paid tribute to Cooper.
“I knew once I bat to the end with someone to take the pressure off of me (we would win). Everytime I tried to accelerate wickets kept tumbling. I told Javon Searles to bat out to the last three overs. If we need 40 in three overs, it’s possible because it’s a very small ground and the ball is wet. I think Kevon Cooper really stepped up and took the pressure off me and he did it,” Ramdin said. The 32-year-old, winning his first CPL title after stints with other franchises, said he was elated to finally lift the trophy.
“This is my first title in five years. This is my third final, I played two with (Guyana) Amazon Warriors and I think this is amazing. I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Ramdin beamed.