Just before the start of the 2020 CPL, the Zouks were dealt a blow when a host of their superstars at the top of the order - Colin Ingram and Rilee Rossouw pulled out of the tournament. With the odds stacked against them, Darren Sammy and the Zouks are just two steps from pulling off a heist.
Since the competition’s inception in 2013, the St Lucia Zouks have been rather restricted to finishing in the bottom half of the table, with their struggles well-documented. The Zouks entered this year’s tournament, on the back of reaching the play-off stage only once in their six seasons of CPL whilst losing more than twice the games that they have played thus far.
The last time they were that high on the table, they were backed by a superstar batting unit, consisting of Shane Watson, Michael Hussey, David Miller and Grant Elliot. However, their hopes early on were quashed by their South African core giving the tournament a miss, owing to the travel restrictions.
To usher into a new era, the franchise roped in experienced Andy Flower as their head coach while still having Darren Sammy leading the side, as they entered the competition as ‘the underdogs.’ However, this season, they were reduced to believe in their own talent pool, which to be honest, have performed beyond expectations. Trust on an overseas T20 veteran in the form of Mohammad Nabi has made a refreshing difference in the setup of the franchise. In the ten games this season, the seasoned all-rounder has picked up 11 wickets, at an economy rate of 5.35, which if you have been following T20 cricket, is extremely handy.
Apart from Nabi’s contribution, Sammy has also planted his trust in the young Javelle Glen, who has helped the franchise come out of difficult situations. Especially against the Tridents in a low-scoring thriller, the World Cup-winning skipper’s experience was, ‘out and out,’ visible. Despite the top-order failing in the contest, the Zouks never gave up hope in the contest, with the middle-order coming up fruitful with their contribution. While Najibullah Zadran ensured that he scored a crucial 22, the duo of Roston Chase and Leniko Boucher were right there in terms of contribution, with 14 and 18 respectively.
Despite the handy contributions, the Zouks could only get to 92, which wouldn’t have done their play-off hopes any favour. Certainly, on that night, several critics and commentators felt that it was going to be an easy chase for the 2019 CPL winners Barbados Tridents. There came in the invaluable experience from the wily Sammy, which kick-started their late surge into a top-three finish this year. For the Tridents, Johnson Charles looked threatening and was ready to take the game out of Zouks’ hands but the presence of a leader figure in the form of Sammy always stood between a decisive victory for the Tridents and an improbable win for the Zouks.
His bowling changes in particular, including giving the ball to the spinners in the death overs was extremely crucial in the run-chase. His trust in the youngster Javelle Glen to come up with a clutch in extreme situations was like a scene outta a Hollywood movie. Could it have gone the other way? Absolutely. But despite that threat lingering around, his ability to trust his players in a cool and calm fashion got them over the line in a stunning manner, via a three-run victory over the Tridents.
This one victory was extremely important for them as their season was a bit of mess, chasing after the Rain gods while banking on the limited resources available at their disposal. We all love a rags-to-riches story! This was made in those exact realms, except that it was built on the principles and ideals of a good leader. After their heartbreaking loss to the Trinbago Knight Riders in the 2016 season, the franchise has come a long way, rebuilding itself on the principles of how it was first built, a team that could threaten others in the competition.
However, It wouldn’t have been entirely possible with just Sammy’s leadership, it required the other senior figures in the team to put their hands up and deliver. Up stepped the 28-year-old Roston Chase, who was on the back of a good performance in England, scoring 203 runs in just eight innings. More importantly, his 66 against the Guyana Amazon Warriors, their opponents in the semi-finals is one of the reasons for the franchise’s run into this stage of the competition. He was not the lone contributor, Najibullah Zadran (200 runs) and Mohammad Nabi (154 runs) too chipped in from time to time with the bat, amassing 354 runs in between them for the Zouks.
The ever-towering presence of Rahkeem Cornwall (142 runs) and veteran Andre Fletcher (172 runs) too weighed in whenever and wherever they were required for the franchise. Mark Deyal too chipped in for the franchise, with 118 runs, batting as a floater. In the bowling department, while there was the presence of Nabi, there was equally, if not more, the bowling performance of Scott Kuggeleijn and Kesrick Williams.
The duo accounted for 27 wickets, bowling with a plethora of variations to confuse the opposition. If you think that’s all they had to battle through the season, then you are wrong! They have had their own share of battles with the rain and even managed to beat the monster in their seven-wicket victory over the Tridents early in the competition. Despite the odds being stacked against them, as emphasised by the bookmakers predicting a last-place finish or at least in the whereabouts, the Zouks have surged their way into the play-off stage and are just two steps away from completing their own version of a fairytale finish.