Guyana Amazon Warriors beat an under-strength Trinbago Knight Riders (TKR) by six wickets on Saturday in a match between the two favourites in the Republic Bank Caribbean Premier League, at Providence Stadium, Guyana.
It was Guyana's second win over TKR this season and their final meeting ahead of Wednesday's playoff clash between the same teams.
Guyana and TKR had already secured the top two spots in the standings but Saturday's victory ensured Guyana would finish as the number-one seed. The winner on Wednesday will advance to Sunday's final while the loser will have another chance of reaching the final on Friday against the winner of the eliminator between the third and fourth-placed teams.
According to who you ask, the importance of Saturday's result would change.
The partisan fans at the Providence Stadium were eager to get another win against TKR, and Guyana showed their hand early with a full-strength team. The hosts were coming off their first defeat of the CPL against St Lucia Kings on Thursday and would not have wanted to head into the playoffs on a two-match skid.
On the flip side, TKR made wholesale changes resting regular starters such as Nicholas Pooran, Andre Russell, Sunil Narine, Ali Khan and Waqar Salamkheil.
TKR captain Kieron Pollard commented on his team's changes.
"I thought what we did in terms of resting players was good for us, because I think Guyana played their full-strength team and now they're minus one with Keemo Paul (getting injured)," Pollard said at the post-match presentation. "He has been an integral part of their team as well."
After being inserted to bat, TKR gave a good account of themselves courtesy enterprising knocks from newcomer Keacy Carty (83 off 49 balls) and Mark Deyal (37 off 20).
The latter was coming of his first half-century of the tournament and gave TKR a solid start despite losing his opening partner Martin Guptill run out for one.
Deyal and Jamaican Chadwick Walton (25 off 27) put on a 41-run partnership to repair the innings before Deyal was caught behind off Keemo Paul.
Carty, who was only announced as a TKR player on Friday, arrived at the crease like a man on a mission. Despite no other TKR batsman reaching double figures, Carty put the league on notice that he can be a difference maker. The St Maarten-born player struck seven fours and four sixes to lift TKR to 176 for eight.
However, his dismissal in the 19th over by Guyana captain and leg-spinner Imran Tahir saw TKR fizzle out at the death.
"I think we got what we wanted from (the game). Keacy came in and scored some runs. We had some guys missing in our team and we still got to (176). I think that shows the depth of our team. For us, it's about giving opportunities and CPL is supposed to be about giving opportunities."
Guyana, aid by a proliferation of dropped catches – two by Kadeem Alleyne, reached their victory target in 18.2 overs. Bajan Shai Hope steered the chase with an unbeaten 51 (two fours, three sixes) while openers Odean Smith (44 off 32) and Saim Ayub (37 off 24) gave the Warriors a launch pad to earn the victory.
Tahir wants the Warriors to keep the momentum going.
"Things went really well for us and we just want to keep going in a humble way and finish what we have started in the tournament."
With the focus now on Wednesday, TKR would be sweating the fitness of Guptill who injured his thigh. Guyana are also likely to be without Paul who seemed to have pulled his groin while fielding.
Pollard said TKR are ready to fight for their CPL final spot.
"We want the fans to come out and support. We know they are not going to support Trinbago Knight Riders, but we are going to give them a good fight. May the best team win on (Wednesday). Hopefully, we'll get a good game of cricket."