It was hyped as the best-ever Caribbean Premier League (CPL) final and few would deny that it wasn't. In front of a packed Brian Lara Academy in Tarouba early Sunday morning, the Trinbago Knight Riders won their second Hero Caribbean Premier League title in dramatic style against the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots in a match that went down to the wire and could have gone either way.
In a final featuring T20 stars such as Dwayne Bravo, Chris Gayle, Evin Lewis and Sunil Narine, it was 28-year-old Kevon Cooper who proved the hero with the ball and more decisively with the bat to take the hosts to victory by three wickets with an over to spare.
Chasing a modest 136 for victory, the Knight Riders struggled badly and needed 33 from 18 balls with Cooper and Denesh Ramdin at the crease.
TKR needed a super knock from one of the two and the man nicknamed “Super Cooper” during a past Indian Premier League (IPL) stint duly obliged.
He hit a whirlwind 29 from 14 balls including two fours and two sixes to swing the match decisively in TKR's favour. Australian pacer Ben Hilfenhaus felt the brunt of his bat, conceding two fours and a six in an error-strewn 19th over that cost 22 and included two wides and a no-ball.
Although it was Ramdin who hit the winning run, Cooper's brilliance was the difference on the night. An emotional Cooper dropped to the ground and started crying immediately as his teammates ran onto the field to celebrate. Ramdin finished on 26 not out.
Earlier, Bravo won the toss and decided to bowl and TKR were in full control for the first 19 overs. The hosts strangled the Patriots batting with incisive bowling and inspired fielding, removing their prolific openers Chris Gayle (one) and Evin Lewis (16) cheaply as their rivals lost their way. But a poor final over from Bravo went for 21, battered for two sixes and a four by Afghanistan's Mohammad Nabi (18 off five balls) as the Patriots posted a competitive 135 runs for six wickets in their 20 overs. Top scoring for the Patriots was Carlos Brathwaite with 30 not out from 25 deliveries. Cooper took two for 12 while Narine was at his frugal best with one wicket for eight runs from four economical overs.
Knight Riders captain Dwayne Bravo has come in for some criticism for persisting with Narine as a pinch hitter but insisted he would not change the strategy for the final. And for the 12th time in 13 matches, the plan failed with Narine out for three, top edging left-arm fast bowler Sheldon Cottrell in the second over to be dismissed caught and bowled. Apart from a chance-filled 79 vs the Barbados Tridents, the left-hander has scored just 80 runs in 12 innings at an average of 6.66.
Although telling the media he would not change the formula for the final, Bravo promoted himself to No.3, and lasted just one ball, bowled comprehensively by a fierce swinging delivery from Cottrell that cannoned into his leg stump. The wickets kept tumbling for the Knight Riders despite chasing the small score with Colin Munro (29), Darren Bravo (one), Hamza Tariq (18), Daniel Christian (eight) and Javon Searles (two) all finding it difficult against disciplined Patriots bowling.
But with Cooper's entry and the calmness of Ramdin to push the ones and twos, Knight Riders avoided calamity to bring cheer to their fans and give national hero Brian Lara, whose name is etched on the venue, something to smile about as he looked on in attendance.
After the game, Patriots captain Chris Gayle lamented his team's failure in their first-ever CPL final.
"We had a foot in at one stage but couldn't get past the line. All I have to say is congrats to Bravo and Trinidad, they've been playing good cricket and they got the better of us in the final. It's disappointing but one team has to lose and unfortunately that's us," he said.
Gayle, however, thanked his players for a tremendous season and hopes they can build on their showing for the future.