..St Lucia Kings clash with TKR in first semi-final today
THE perennial bridesmaids meet 2017’s losing finalists. The Guyana Amazon Warriors have been the ‘nearly’ team throughout the history of the CPL, advancing to the final five times but never claiming the title.
The St Kitts & Nevis Patriots finished runner-up four years ago, coincidentally during Chris Gayle’s first rodeo with this year’s host franchise, and he is now back trying to turn a silver medal into gold.
The first half of this campaign saw these teams in far different situations to the ones they enter the playoffs in. The Patriots shot like a cannon out of the gates, winning their first five matches behind the sizzling form of Sherfane Rutherford, who scored three fifties in that stretch.
But as Rutherford’s bat has cooled down, so have the Patriots as a whole, winning just one of their last five league games.
The Amazon Warriors, meanwhile, only won two of their first five – needing a Super Over to get over the line in one of them – but have since won four out of five with different heroes stepping up on each occasion.
Whether it has been Gudakesh Motie, Romario Shepherd, Odean Smith, or the captain Nicholas Pooran, the Warriors have been resilient thanks to a variety of match-winning performances. The Warriors come into this match with all the momentum but if the Patriots can rekindle their early-season form, it could be the formula for an exciting semi-final.
Romario Shepherd had 36 runs in the tournament entering the final match of round-robin play. There, he scored twice as many in incredible style, digging his side out of a hole at 75 for 7 while scoring at a strike rate better than 200, then took three wickets in the chase.
He’s been the tournament’s joint-leading wicket-taker with 18, and has been especially valuable at the ‘death’.
Evin Lewis helped the Patriots clinch a spot in the playoffs with an unbeaten 101 off 52 balls on the penultimate day of group play, but was missing in action a day later. He’s the tournament’s second-highest run-getter and is coming into good form heading into the T20 World Cup.
Fitness permitting, Lewis should be back in the Patriots XI for the semi-final clash. Joshua Da Silva’s half-century at the top of the order gives the selectors an interesting dilemma as to who should take the gloves, though.
Another coin toss may happen between picking Sheldon Cottrell and leaving him out for an extra spinner in Jon-Russ Jaggesar.
Meanhile, last year’s finalists will begin the semi-finals phase this year. St Lucia Kings beat the defending champions Trinbago Knight Riders in their first fixture this season, and lost the return leg immediately after. Since then, it’s been an upward trend in general for both teams in a tightly fought league stage.
But Knight Riders come into today’s first semi-final with a victory in their last game, and as the leaders of the league, while Kings come in with a crushing defeat against Barbados Royals on Sunday in which they played without the injured Faf du Plessis.
The search for a first CPL title will hinge a lot on du Plessis’ availability for this game; while they managed to make up for his absence in the batting by re-introducing Rahkeem Cornwall into the team as an opener, his absence in the field was telling, particularly evident when stand-in captain Andre Fletcher had several tense discussions with his bowlers as they tried to halt Royals’ charge in the chase.
It is a groin injury that he picked up on Saturday, however, and getting him fully fit by Tuesday is a near-impossible task; if he does end up playing, he is likely to be playing through injury.
In comparison, Knight Riders have looked a far more settled side, having won five of their last seven games, with one of their losses coming in a Super Over. They will feel confident in their charge to win a fifth CPL title.