The final leg of the Republic Bank Caribbean Premier League (CPL) tournament has bowled off in Guyana. The host team, the Guyana Amazon Warriors, wasted little time in booking their spot through to the qualifier on September 20, as they got an emphatic seven-wicket victory over the defending champions Jamaica Tallawahs at the Providence Stadium in Guyana on Wednesday night.
The Warriors’ huge win, which was inspired by Saim Ayub’s remarkable knock of 85 off 53 balls – his third straight CPL fifty – has set up a tantalising clash with four-time champions Trinbago Knight Riders (TKR) in next Wednesday’s qualifier. The winner of that qualifier will advance to the CPL final on September 24.
Before they cast their eyes on the final though, this season’s two most dominant CPL teams will meet in a round-robin match on Saturday at Providence. At present, both TKR and the Warriors have amassed 13 points, with the latter heading the six-team table due to their superior net run rate. The Warriors have also played seven matches compared to TKR’s nine matches, and they have rattled off an impressive six-game winning streak.
Captain Kieron Pollard and his TKR team came out on the losing side in their first match vs the Warriors this season, as the Guyanese franchise got a comfortable six-wicket win over the hosts at the Queen’s Park Oval, St Clair on September 5. In that match, the 21-year-old Ayub, who made his T20 international debut for Pakistan in March 2023, scored his first of three CPL fifties – a match-winning knock of 62 off 43 balls. The stylish left-hander has looked at home in his maiden campaign with the Warriors, and his thumping innings of 85 pushed him to the top of CPL 2023’s scoring charts with 288 runs at an average of 48. In the process, Ayub surpassed the TKR pair of Martin Guptill (261 runs) and Nicholas Pooran (257 runs), as well as St Kitts and Nevis Patriots batsman Andre Fletcher (267 runs).
Since they were beaten by the Warriors, TKR have gone on a winning streak of their own, ending the Trinidad leg of the tournament with three comprehensive wins. On September 6, TKR defeated Barbados Royals by 42 runs at the Oval, stamping their authority over an opposition team they also hammered by a 133-run margin at Kensington Oval in Barbados the previous week. The in-form Pooran was the man of the moment for TKR in their second encounter vs the Royals, as he smashed an unbeaten score of 102 off just 53 balls with ten massive sixes. It was Pooran’s second CPL ton and the former West Indies skipper is expected to play a pivotal role if TKR are to get a fifth CPL title.
On September 9 and 10, TKR took their momentum to the Brian Lara Stadium in Tarouba, Trinidad, as they got seven-wicket victories versus the Tallawahs and the St Lucia Kings respectively. Both Guptill (53 not out) and Pooran (54) did the damage with the bat against the Tallawahs, while opening batsman Mark Deyal (57) got in on the act versus his former team, the Kings, registering his first CPL fifty with TKR.
In 2022, TKR finished bottom of the CPL table with just three wins through ten matches, despite the high-profile additions of Pooran and Jamaican allrounder Andre Russell.
This year, under the guidance of West Indies’ 2016 World T20 winning coach Phil Simmons, TKR have looked like a team with a renewed focus and energy.
“We came last, last year, so that is as much an inspiration as anything for the team to do well,” Simmons told Newsday before the start of CPL 2023 in August. “The thing about it is, anybody who is not accustomed to being last and when you get there, you know that something is wrong. So we are trying to correct all the things that we did not do correctly last year.”
Importantly for TKR, “responsibility” has been a key theme for the current season, with several players stepping up to the plate at key junctures to provide a more balanced team effort. Both Guptill and Pooran are among this season’s top five run-getters, while Pollard (183 runs), Deyal (156 runs), Lorcan Tucker (150 runs) and the hard-hitting Russell (141 runs) have all played timely innings.
With the ball in hand, TKR have also been good as a collective, with Rusell (11 wickets) and veteran off-spinner Sunil Narine (ten wickets) among this year’s five leading wicket-takers. Afghanistan spinner Waqar Salamkheil has also been a revelation for the four-time champions in his debut CPL season, taking nine wickets in just six matches. Meantime, his debut spell of four for 14 against the Royals on August 30 is the best bowling return by any bowler this year.
With Pooran and Guptill leading an ominous batting lineup, and Narine, Salamkheil and Rusell bamboozling opponents with their combination of spin and pace, TKR look to be rising to the occasion at the right time – even with star allrounder Dwayne Bravo on the sideline. Bravo has missed the last five games for TKR with an undisclosed niggle, but he remains an active participant as he guides the bowlers through their death-bowling routines from behind the boundary.
Bravo will of course love to make his impact on the field after returning from his successful stint with the Patriots, but thus far, TKR have shown they can fill the void.
on Saturday night, TKR and the Warriors will meet in what is effectively a dress rehearsal ahead of their qualifier next week. It remains to be seen if it will be a case of “chicken curry” versus “curried chicken” in the 2023 CPL final. TKR will be chasing title number five, while the Warriors will aim to put five CPL losses behind them as they hunt an elusive crown.