TT Red Force are two wins away from capturing their first regional title in five years.
After completing the preliminary round of the CG Insurance Super50 Cup unbeaten after five matches, the Kieron Pollard-captained unit continue their quest to Caribbean supremacy against Jamaica, on Wednesday, in the first semi-final at Coolidge Cricket Ground in Antigua.
The Red Force are hoping for a repeat performance against Jamaica Scorpions having secured a five-wicket win against their regional rivals in their opening clash on February 11.
TT are atop the standings on 20 points while Jamaica are fourth with eight points. The second semi-final between second-ranked Guyana (12 pts) and third-placed Windward Islands (eight pts) bowls off on Thursday at the same venue.
Guyana Jaguars are also tipped to emerge victors against the Windward Islands Volcanoes after winning four of their five preliminary matches, losing their last to the TT Red Force.
President of the TT Cricket Board (TTCB) Azim Bassarath was not surprised with the team’s string of strong results and lauded the efforts of Pollard and newly-appointed coach Richard Furlonge.
Bassarath regularly communicates with the pair and said he is always open to assist the national squad upon request.
“Before the team left (TT) the captain and coach had said that they are going into the tournament to win. From what I have seen, the team seems focused and they are planning every game very strategically.
“I’ve been in touch quite regularly with captain and coach. The team spirit is very high. At the end of every game I will message them both. If there is need for them to say anything, they know that my lines (phone) are always open to chat and meet with them,” he said.
Every Red Force victory thus far featured standout individual performances from varying players.
In the opener against Scorpions, pacer Anderson Phillip bagged three for 66 while opener Evin Lewis (107) and vice-captain Darren Bravo (59) contributed nicely with the bat.
Against the Volcanoes, Jason Mohammed spun to three for 50 while Phillip bagged another three scalps for 63 runs. Opener Lendl Simmons, after being dismissed without scoring in the first match, went on to blast 102 from 114 balls.
In their third clash against Barbados Pride, a skipper’s spell (5/17) from Pollard and an impressive knock of 122 from Mohammed and 61 from Lewis extended the Red Force’s win streak.
Additionally, returning pacer Ravi Rampaul snagged three for 17 in the fourth game against Leeward Islands while Sunil Narine showed up to bag three for 36. Chasing a total of 130 for victory, Furlonge’s men raced to 130 for one with opener Kjorn Ottley (47 not out) and Mohammed (40 not out) cruising to victory.
In their final preliminary game against Guyana, spinner Imran Khan was the pick of TT’s bowlers as he finished with figures of the five for 32 runs while Akeal Hosein captured two for 25. Mohammed (82) again contributed nicely with the bat while stand-in captain Bravo slammed 58.
Bassarath said, “From what we have seen, rotating and resting players is a strategic move to make sure that everybody gets some sort of action on the park. I have full confidence in the captain, coach and management team.
“In every game so far someone came to the forefront and stood out outstandingly. The team is reaping its rewards as people coming together. Everyone is joining in. For all the victories so far you would see it’s a team effort in both the batting and bowling department.”
Ending the Red Force’s five-year title drought would be ideal, said the TTCB boss.
In 2019, the West Indies Emerging Players were crowned champions before the 2020 edition was cancelled owing to the pandemic. With no defending champion and the original ten-team tourney reduced to six this time around, although unbeaten, the Red Force are well aware there’s still all to play for.
Bassarath concluded, “It’s very important for any territory in the Caribbean to win this tournament. Because of the lockdown we’ve had over the past year, any team entering this tournament wants to win it.
“For TT, a title win is very important for the development of our game here. The last time we won was in 2016. In that year, of the seven regional tournaments that were hosted by Cricket West Indies, TT won seven.
“I’m quite sure they’re going to put their best foot forward for the rest of the games that have to be played. The talent and the commitment of our players, management team and coaches is there. They want to see the success of TT continue.”