Wooden spoon in 2018, title victory in 2019 and the penultimate spot in 2020, Barbados Royals (then Tridents) experienced all the ups and downs of franchise cricket in the last three seasons. The constant batting meltdowns embarrassed them further. For three games in a row, their top score was a 92 all out. They failed to chase 92 against St. Lucia Zouks (now Kings) which was the lowest point in their history.
Those events are now water under the bridge. For the forthcoming 2021 season, the Royals seem to have covered up their chinks. Jason Holder will continue leading them while the coaching duties have moved to Daniel Vettori. The former New Zealand cricketer will join the Royals for the first time after a successful coaching stint with the Birmingham Phoenix at the Hundred, with his team finishing runners up.
The Royals initially filled for the unavailability of Rashid Khan and Mitchell Santner with Chris Morris and the 19-year old Afghan leggie, Shafiqullah Ghafari. However, none of them were part of the reshuffled squad because of various reasons. In came Jake Lintott, the left arm wrist-spinner who played a pivotal part in Southern Brave’s title win in the Hundred, and Glenn Phillips, one of the fastest emerging talents in white-ball cricket. The Royals also signed Azam Khan, Thisara Perera and Mohammad Amir in the initial draft.
Their most potent combination (mentioned later) suggests a change in the Royals’ approach. From playing four spinners consistently in their line-up in 2020, they appear to turn back to a pace-dominant bowling attack.
Smit Patel, having recently moved to USA cricket, is their Major Cricket League player.
The first look at the Royals’ squad hints at flexibility. They have two experienced international all-rounders in Holder and Perera. Kyle Mayers can also contribute in both facets. In addition, they have the spin bowling all-rounder in Ashley Nurse. The Royals have four all-rounders in their first-choice XI which deepens their batting and bowling resources.
With four spinners in the XI, Barbados bowled 60.4% of their overs last season with spin but were agonized by the taste of their own medicine with the bat. Like their standings, they had the second-worst numbers while facing spin, be it run-rate (5.6), average (16.3) or balls-per-dismissal (17.5).
The addition of Phillips and Azam puts them in a better place to tackle spin. Phillips, especially, has been a top-performer for Jamaica earlier for four seasons. His strike-rate against spin in CPL during this time might not raise eyebrows (112.7) but he maintains a solid average of 33.6. Meanwhile, Azam has the reputation of being a spin basher - strike-rate of 173.6 - in his 41-match long T20 career.
In Phillips, the Royals also have an opening partner for Johnson Charles. Last year, Charles scored 214 runs at a strike-rate of 115 while opening in all the 10 games. From the other end, his opening partners - Shai Hope in seven innings, Jonathan Carter in one innings and Justin Greaves in two innings - contributed 165 runs, striking at only 89.6. Since 2017, no one has scored more runs in CPL as an opener than Phillips.
Phillips’ addition, thus, kills two birds with one stone as the Royals will aim at good starts and tackling spin better.
It is tough to find frailty points in a team with such flexibility. But with the Royals, it is about the threats from the past that can hold them back.
Apart from negating spin efficiently, their campaign will rest on some key players who are currently carrying bad form. None more so than Mohammad Amir, the supposed leader of their pace attack. Amir has averaged 60.1 for his eight wickets in 15 T20s this year. His economy is 8.4, reasonable but still the worst he has suffered in a year. At the death, he has leaked runs at 9.6 per over. The Royals have one of the better pace attacks but its competitiveness rests on the shoulders of Amir.
Similarly, Kyle Mayers, their highest run-scorer last year with 222 runs, is coming off an abysmal run in international cricket which has seen him bag three ducks in a row. He is their only left-hander in their middle-order, unless Thisara Perersa gets a batting promotion - an unlikely event.
Probable First-Choice XI
Barbados Royals are the only side which don’t have to invest an overseas spot in their spin attack, unless they play Jake Lintott. Hence, they use this liberty to strengthen their batting and pace-bowling arsenal with the likes of Phillips, Azam, Amir and Perera.
The number of all-rounders gives them the freedom to pick an extra batsman in Shai Hope or Smit Patel. The number 11 slot can go to either one of Raymon Reifer, Oshane Thomas or the left-arm spinner, Joshua Bishop, depending on form and conditions.
Johnson Charles, Glenn Phillips, Azam Khan (wk), Kyle Mayers, Jason Holder (c), Smit Patel/Shai Hope, Thisara Perera, Ashley Nurse, Hayden Walsh, Mohammad Amir, Raymon Reifer/Oshane Thomas/Joshua Bishop
Barbados Royals will begin their season with the second game of the season, against St. Kitts & Nevis Patriots.