How would you rate a semifinal finish in a 6-team tournament? The question can induce polarized opinions. On one hand, you reached the knockout stage. On the other, you kind of did better than only 33 percent of the teams in the competition. In the case of the Guyana Amazon Warriors, the consensus was around the latter.
They started the tournament in 2020 as favorites but blew hot and cold throughout. They reached the semifinals winning six out of their 10 leagues games but were routed for 55 by the eventual finalists St. Lucia Zouks (now Kings), suffering a 10-wicket drubbing.
Despite a bumpy ride last year, they will start this season as favorites. With an exciting blend of veterans and exciting youngsters, the Warriors keep you on the edge of the seat. In 2019, they won 11 games on a trot, before getting their heart broken in the final. That was their fifth defeat in as many finals. For them, it has been the tale of so near yet so far and the fire to get that elusive trophy must be ablaze.
In major personnel changes, the Warriors will be missing some of the key components of their previous editions. Keemo Paul, Chris Green and Sherfane Rutherford made their CPL debuts for the Warriors back in 2017, 2018 and 2018 respectively. Green was their captain in the previous season.
Shoaib Malik returns to their squad after missing the last season due to international duties. However, he won’t be the captain this time as the job has been assigned to Nichols Pooran who recently led West Indies in T20Is as well, in the absence of the regular skipper Kieron Pollard. Mohammad Hafeez will add to the all-round expertise in the side.
Interestingly, they are the only franchise not to opt for a 17th spot - a Major Cricket League player or a West Indies’ localite.
There are different kinds of teams in T20 cricket based on their stronger suit. Bowling teams are probably the ones with most consistent success. The Warriors are one of those units. They had the best economy-rate in the 2019 (7.6) and 2020 season. They also strike more frequently than other sides, maintaining the best bowling strike-rate in 2019 (14 balls per wicket) and the third-best in the 2020 season.
They supposedly have eight bowling options in their probable first-choice XI (mentioned below). Five of them are spinners including the part-time but quite effective bowling talent of Chandrapaul Hemraj, Malik and Hafeez.
They like to bombard their opposition with spin. In 2019, the Warriors broke the record for most number of overs by spin in a CPL season, overall 57.4% of their overs.
Observing their success and the sluggish pitches in the 2020 season, other teams like Trinbago Knight Riders and Barbados Royals (then Tridents) increased their spin usage while the Warriors still delivered 56.9% of their overs with spin. Even in the Powerplay, they bowled 76.7% of their overs with spin, an aftereffect of having Johan Botha as their coach, a handy spinner during the field restrictions himself.
The Warriors were pretty great in the pace department as well last year. However, this season, they will miss Paul, the one who bowled most overs at the death in 2020. But they still have someone to rely on in Naveen Ul Haq. The Afghan international is loaded with confidence with 26 wickets in the T20 Blast, the most in the competition thus far. In CPL 2020, he picked 11 wickets in 10 games at an economy of 6.4. From playing the supporting role to Paul in 2020, he is now the spearhead of their pace department.
Moving on, the batting will revolve around the local duo of Pooran and Shimron Hetmyer. Both youngsters but vastly experienced, they were decent in the home T20I season for West Indies. If their form complements Guyana’s bowling then stopping them would be an insurmountable task for other sides.
The absence of Rutherford, Paul and Green has compromised Warriors’ batting depth. The three were the only batsmen to bat at seven for the Warriors last season. Now, with Naveen Ul Haq supposed to slot in the role - averaging 9.7 with the bat in 25 T20 innings - the batting expertise falls down starting number seven itself.
Besides, the opponents would aim to dent them early at their mercurial opening pair - Brandon King and Hemaraj. King was the highest run-scorer in the 2019 season and slammed a hundred in the semi-final. That was the peak of his career which earned him a spot in the West Indies’ squad. Since then, however, he has batted like a shadow of his 2019 self.
He averaged only 11.6 in 2020 while Hemraj reeled at 17.5. Consequently, the Warriors were insufferable in the Powerplay. Their run-rate in the first six overs was only 5.8 at an average of 16. It brought in Hetmyer and Pooran too early for their liking. Their opponents would like to follow the same outline this year.
Probable First-Choice XI
The top four are expected to be the same as last year. The presence of both Malik and Hafeez can mean a promotion for either one of them in case they lose an early wicket. Otherwise, Hafeez slots in at six which is too late for him. The right-hander has batted only eight out of his 309 T20 innings at six or lower. As stated above, the batting falls off post number six.
Despite an ace spin attack which includes Imran Tahir, they would like to have three pacers. Hence, one amongst Odean Smith and Nial Smith must play. Ashmead Nedd may get the nod ahead of Kevin Sinclair for the variety of left-arm finger spin.
Brandon King, Chanderpaul Hemraj, Shimron Hetmyer, Nicholas Pooran (c/wk), Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez, Naveen Ul Haq, Romario Shepherd, Imran Tahir, Odeon Smith/Nial Smith, Ashmead Nedd
Guyana Amazon Warriors will kick-start the tournament facing Trinbago Knight Riders in the lung opener on 26th August.