Don’t doubt DJ Bravo
Few players in the world relish the spotlight more than Trinbago Knight Riders captain Dwayne Bravo. An energetic all-rounder by day and DJ Bravo by night, the 34 year old does not shun the bright lights at all. TKR owe much of their stability to Bravo who is the only captain in Caribbean Premier League (CPL) history to stay with the same franchise since inception.
This year has arguably been one of the most difficult for Bravo who has struggled badly with the ball. Normally a leading wicket-taker in the tournament, Bravo still finished with 13 wickets but went at an astronomical economy rate of 10.64 runs per over. No player in the tournament who bowled more than 14 overs – Bravo bowled 49 – was more expensive than the Trinidadian.
Maligned on social media, Bravo, was unwavering in self confidence as all captains should be and stayed true to himself to win his third CPL title.
As a 22 year old, Bravo proved himself a capable death bowler with a slower ball to deceive a rampaging Yuvraj Singh and bowl him out for 93 to dismiss India for 197 and hand the West Indies victory by one run in a low scoring ODI thriller in Kingston, Jamaica. Since then, he has gone on to fool many more top class batsmen around the world with his clever variations of slower balls, slower bouncers and dipping yorkers.
Admittedly not having his best tournament with the ball, Bravo still took the burden upon himself to bowl the latter overs.
To change what had worked for him for over a decade would be asinine and a sign of weakness – there is no weakness in the Knight Riders’ armour. Who in the region can doubt Bravo now? The TKR skipper saved his best bowling performance for the final with two wickets for 30 runs and should have had a third had Kevon Cooper held on to an easy catch.
His captaincy throughout the competition has been spot on as he utilised his bowling attack to the detriment of his opponents. His batting has also been a breath of fresh air, averaging a shade under 30 (29.85) and giving his team a much needed lift with sixes galore when needed.
"Playing over 400 games, you don’t play it because people like you, but because you’re good enough to play over 400 games. I’ve been there and it’s no pressure, I just stay one game at a time,” Bravo told the media earlier this season.
TKR could not ask for a better captain.
Golden talent in Guyana
They might have lost their fourth final in CPL history, but the future is bright for Guyana Amazon Warriors and the West Indies. The Amazon Warriors batting this season has been led by two young Guyanese with unbelievable talent. Shimron Hetmyer, 21 years old, was their leading scorer with 440 runs for the campaign at an average of 40 with one century and two 50s. His century in Florida vs the Jamaica Tallawahs was historic as he became the youngest CPL centurion ever.
He was ably supported by 20 year old Sherfane Rutherford who terrorised the Trinbago Knight Riders at Providence Stadium in Guyana with an explosive knock that almost broke the CPL record for fastest 50. He ended on 45 not out off 13 balls with one boundary and six sixes. Had Guyana not reached the target of 155 for victory, it was extremely likely Rutherford would have erased or at least matched the record which was achieved off 15 balls.
Hetmyer has already been spotted by the West Indies selectors but is being slowly introduced to international cricket. In 12 one-day matches, he has already reached triple figures twice and averages 39.91 with a strike rate of 96.76. His aggression has not been tamed yet in Test cricket, playing six matches and notching two fifties at a strike-rate of 72.68.
His fearlessness and willingness to shoulder the responsibility for the Guyana Amazon Warriors was evident and this augurs well for West Indies cricket in the future.
Rutherford made his first-class debut just last year and only wore regional colours less than three months ago for a West Indies B team competing at the inaugural Global Canada T20.
Rutherford, in just eight CPL matches, finished with the second best average (34.20) for the Amazon Warriors and should be getting many more opportunities to showcase his skills soon. His power is undeniable and he looks ready for the big stage.
Backroom staff important
It is no secret that the Trinbago Knight Riders are the gold standard for franchises in the CPL. Since being taken over by Red Chillies Entertainment – owners of Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League – TKR have raised the bar on what professionalism means and become the first CPL team to win back-to-back titles.
A key bowler in the Knight Riders' successful 2017 campaign was Pakistan leg-spinner Shadab Khan with 12 wickets from just eight matches. His unavailability for the 2018 season had little impact on TKR. In stepped Australian Fawad Ahmed who has played just two T20 matches for his adopted country but the leggie was even more impressive than Khan as he finished as the tournament's leading wicket-taker. Ahmed, 36, grabbed 22 wickets for the tournament and proved a thorn in opposing batsmen's side. New Zealander Colin Munro, the Player of the Tournament, and the first batsman to score 500 runs, has been with the Knight Riders since making his debut in 2016 and his value has increased exponentially.
Another debutant for TKR this year was pacer Ali Khan who has been featuring in minor leagues but caught the eye of Dwayne Bravo who lobbied for him to be selected for the Knight Riders.
TKR also benefits from world renowned performance and strategic analyst AR Srikkanth who works in the IPL, CPL, Pakistan Super League and Bangladesh Premier League among others. His scouting for talent and knowledge of the weaknesses of players he's seen can only help TKR's cause.
Asked about players he's scouted for KKR, he told Cricinfo, "Sunil Narine, Kuldeep [Yadav], Suryakumar Yadav, Colin Munro, Ryan ten Doeschate, Colin de Grandhomme. We pick players for TKR as well. Shadab Khan and Munro were my picks, Anderson Phillip, who plays for TKR."
While it seems other CPL franchises are selecting overseas players based on "name", TKR are in the trenches digging for rough diamonds and using the latest data to build their squad. The other CPL franchises are playing catch-up and TKR are well ahead of the game in terms of a structure that makes it easier for them to succeed.
Cream rises to the top
For the 2018 season, there has been much conjecture about the impact of the decision to allow five foreign players in the starting XI. Several pundits speculated the increase from four to five internationals would hinder the development of regional youngsters.
“When you have fewer players playing and more foreign players in a particular team, I don’t think this will be a good idea in terms of building our players for the future,” TT youth selector Glen Dwarika said earlier this season.
His doubts, however, have proven unfounded as several young players have come to the CPL party. Aside from Guyana's 20 year old Sherfane Rutherford and 21 year old Shimron Hetmyer, the CPL has unearthed a fast bowling gem in Jamaican Oshane Thomas, 21, who represented the Jamaica Tallawahs.
Fresh off a tour to England for a tri-nation series with the West Indies 'A' team, Thomas was raring to let loose in the CPL.
"I have been playing a lot of cricket in the past four months and I have been training very hard, so I feel pretty confident going into this year's CPL and I am looking forward to doing well...My aim to finish with the most wickets in the CPL because I have been working hard and I am determined to achieve this," he told The Star.
Although Trinbago Knight Riders spinner Fawad Ahmed's name tops the list of CPL wicket-taker with 22 wickets from 13 matches, Thomas' name isn't too far off. He was second in the chart with 18 scalps from 10 matches. Clocking close to 90 mph with devastating yorkers, Thomas is definitely one for the future despite barely playing a handful of matches for Jamaica in first-class and 50 overs cricket.
DRS needed for 2019
Another enjoyable season for "the biggest party in sport" has come and gone but one area that desperately needs addressing is the quality of umpiring. This season has been particularly bad for the officials out in the middle. There have been several horror calls in CPL 2018, from LBW decisions, wides, no balls and edges not being noticed. With teams battling for glory and their personal pride on the line as well, umpires need to get it right more often than not as one bad decision could be the difference between winning and losing or making the playoffs and missing it.
It was refreshing to see CPL organisers introduced the Decision Review System (DRS) for the CPL semi-final and final in Trinidad. Perhaps for 2019, DRS will be utilised for the duration of the tournament and not just two games. Players are under pressure to deliver and so too are umpires. DRS is there to help umpires who have a difficult job and no replay to assist. It will ensure games are decided by brilliance and not errors.