All Mark Deyal wanted was a chance. A chance to shoulder some responsibility, a chance for someone to believe in him, a chance to show his worth and display the three-dimensional qualities he possesses as a consistently improving cricketer.
At the 2020 Caribbean Premier League (CPL) T20 tournament, St Lucia Zouks captain Darren Sammy and coach Andy Flower provided the 27-year- old all-rounder with his long-awaited opportunity – one which he seized.
Having made his CPL debut with Red Steel, as an Under-23 player, in 2015 and then selected to Trinbago Knight Riders (TKR) in 2019, Deyal played a minor role representing the TT franchise.
However, when Sammy secured the 27-year-old’s services at this year’s CPL Draft, Deyal was intent on making a name for himself. He went on to produce several commendable performances with the bat, ball and in the outfield, and even generated a Man of the Match display against Guyana Amazon Warriors to lead his team into the title match.
In that semi-final meeting, Zouks dismissed the Warriors for 55 – the tournament’s second-lowest score – with Deyal bagging 2/2, scoring an unbeaten 19 and also taking a spectacular diving catch to remove his cousin and opposing vice-captain, Nicholas Pooran, from the crease.
Deyal featured in 10 of the Zouks’ 12 matches and only missed the two due to an injury to the right upper quadrant of his abdomen. Although St Lucia Zouks went down to TKR in the final, it was the first time the franchise had made it this far, winning seven of their 12 games contested.
Prior to the start of the tournament, skipper Sammy told the Deyal that several of the Zouks’ foreign-based batsmen were unable to attend and that he would have a lot more responsibility on his shoulders. Deyal openly accepted his role.
“Words cannot express my experience this year. This was actually the opportunity I was waiting for, for a long time where I would have the opportunity to be myself in batting, bowling and fielding. I was very happy to have that responsibility and to go out there and repay Darren and Zouks for showing that belief and faith in me.
“I never doubted my ability but I always wanted a chance. I told my dad that if I was able to be a mainstay in the team, I would ensure I would not be dropped. I wanted someone to have that belief in me and I had the backing of the captain and coach. This motivated me so much,” he said.
After representing in the first six games, Deyal sustained the abdominal injury and sat out the following two matches. The left-handed batsman scored just 65 runs in these six encounters and opted to use his downtime to observe how opposing batsmen went about scoring runs along both pitches at the Brian Lara Cricket Academy (Tarouba) and at the Queen’s Park Oval (St Clair).
Upon his re-entry to the squad two games later, Deyal went on to score 101 runs from the remaining four matches played. He praised Sammy and Flower for instilling the belief in him that he could bounce back from an injury and still have a lasting impact on not only the team, but the entire tournament.
“The couple games I was off gave me more time to think about my batting approach and I had a lot of conversations with the coach as well. After our discussions, he actually saw that I implemented a lot of what he told me and made a conscious effort into doing it.
The captain kept telling me I had a ‘Man of the Match’ performance in me and that it would come. I was eager to do well. It was very fitting and pleasing that it came in the semi-final. Darren was happy I showed my willingness to do well on a big stage. He believed in me and helped me execute,” Deyal added.
Having made their finalist debut at the 2020 edition, from the get-go, St Lucia Zouks were never favoured to reach so far. With the likes of star-studded line-ups from TKR, Guyana Amazon Warriors, Jamaica Tallawahs and 2019 winners Barbados Tridents, Zouks had their work cut out.
According to Deyal, Sammy’s role at the helm of the squad was pivotal in getting them through the tournament. The St Lucian is the only captain to have won the World T20 on two occasions. His experience served as the driving force which propelled St Lucia Zouks to a still-deserving runner-up spot.
“His leadership was commendable. As a captain, when your team is not performing, it can hamper you as an individual with your leadership. What speaks volumes about Darren is that he didn’t let that affect his judgment and captaincy. He was under a lot of pressure but when he stepped out on the field, he showed everyone how good of a captain he is. Darren is a very influential captain who generates team spirit, unity and selflessness,” said Deyal.
Against TKR in the final, Deyal was disappointed to lose out but credited a rich atmosphere of teamwork among the Zouks line-up.
He continued, “Everyone counted us out but I thought we proved that big names don’t decide matches. On paper, our team was not star-studded but we had a lot of guys with heart and things to prove. The way we bonded as a team, each player enjoyed one another’s success. We bonded really well. It was a never-say-die mentality.”
Moving forward, the UTT Sports Management graduate plans to take a couple weeks off to rest and recover from his injury. Deyal plans to reflect on my performances, analyse and improve his gameplay. He has set his sights on other international tournaments and remains hopeful that his performance at the CPL this time around may have caught the attention of scouts.
According to him, St Lucia Zouks is his new home.
“Of course I want to be retained by the Zouks. I feel as though I’ve settled really nicely there. I always get the best out of myself when I have responsibility. Being in a team where I know they’re looking forward to something from me, my game automatically improves.
I would love to be retained there because I see the team as a home for me where I can mature and evolve my game. This is better for my career because I would have more playing time and I wouldn’t be under immense pressure. I can be relaxed, settled and play my cricket. All I wanted was a chance and Darren Sammy gave that to me. I would have loved for my grandfather (deceased) to share this experience with me,” Deyal concluded.