Stories by STEPHON NICHOLAS
RUMOURS OF their demise were greatly exaggerated. Trinbago Knight Riders might not be at their scintillating best but their championship pedigree was enough to see them eliminate St Kitts and Nevis Patriots yesterday, by six wickets, and stay in contention for their third straight Hero Caribbean Premier League crown.
Key to that championship pedigree was the return of ace off-spinner Sunil Narine, who missed TKR's last three matches - all ending in defeats.
TKR skipper Kieron Pollard had implored fans to "keep the faith" and his team delivered yesterday at the National Stadium, Providence, Guyana.
Pollard, with a brutal 26 runs in nine balls, including one four and three sixes, silenced the Guyanese crowd who were eager to see the two-time defending champions exit. After hitting Carlos Brathwaite for 18 in the 19th over to end the match, Pollard dropped his blade like a gladiator in the arena and cupped his hand to his ear. The boo-boys who had earlier greeted him when he entered the crease might have been eating chicken curry, because they were all silent.
Instead, the TKR fans who had made the journey to Guyana to support their team were bursting with exhilaration and waving their TT flags vociferously.
Narine, nursing a finger injury, has missed five games for the tournament, but returned spectacularly, with two wickets for ten runs from four stifling overs, at the National Stadium, Providence, Guyana.
TKR pacers Chris Jordan (3/30) and Ali Khan (2/22) looked inspired by the presence of Narine as Pollard rotated his bowlers well to limit the opposition. Perhaps following Guyana's spin-heavy strategy, TKR went with four spinners - Narine, left-armers Khary Pierre and Akeal Hosein, and leg-spinner Seekkuge Prasanna.
The decision proved correct as only Laurie Evans (55 from 47) looked comfortable at the crease, restricting the Patriots to 125/7.
Batting has been the Achilles heel for TKR in their poor run of form, losing their previous five matches, and it reared its head again with a top-order collapse. Narine (eight), Colin Munro (duck) and Darren Bravo (one) all departed cheaply to leave TKR on shaky ground at 31/3. Some tight bowling, particularly from fiery pacer Alzarri Joseph, pegged TKR back at 44/3 after 11 overs to setup a tense finish.
But Lendl Simmons showed why he was top of the batting charts, with another timely knock, under tremendous pressure, Simmons anchored the innings with 51 off 47 balls (three fours, three sixes), to stave off some hostile bowling from Joseph.
Denesh Ramdin, struggling badly to find the gaps on 13 off 29 balls, cut loose late by taking the aerial route instead. He blazed left-arm fast bowler Sheldon Cottrell for a six and a four in the 16th over to bring the equation to a manageable 27 from 18 balls.
Pollard, incensed by the hostile reception, did the rest. He took out his fury on Brathwaite's 19th over, sending two balls sailing into the crowd and blasting the winning boundary through cover.
Ramdin, despite his early troubles, finished on a valuable 32 from 38 balls, to help his team chase the small total.
TKR will face Tridents on Thursday, at the Brian Lara Stadium in Tarouba, in the second qualfier.
ST KITTS AND NEVIS PATRIOTS 125/7 (20 overs) - Laurie Evans 55; Chris Jordan 3/30, Sunil Narine 2/10, Ali Khan 2/22 vs TRINBAGO KNIGHT RIDERS 128/4 (18.4 overs) - Lendl Simmons 51, Denesh Ramdin 32, Kieron Pollard 26. Trinbago Knight Riders won by six wickets.