After winning the title in 2020, a jubilant Dwayne Bravo provided a quirky reminder of the safety measures in Covid times. He reiterated the need for social distancing by stressing on Trinbago Knight Riders’ four title wins when no one had won more than two. It could seem to be borderline arrogance but it was an accurate assessment of their supremacy in the league.
The Knight Riders have been far ahead of the pack and it showed in their 2020 campaign where they won all their 12 games to claim the trophy. In the 2021 season, they would aim to distance themselves further with a fifth title.
There are some significant changes in the Knight Riders’ arsenal this year. Their wrist-spinner Fawad Ahmed and prime all-rounder Dwayne Bravo have moved to St. Kitts & Nevis Patriots. Sikandar Raza is unavailable. They signed Sandeep Lamichhane but he couldn’t make it to the Caribbean islands as well.
In come Isuru Udana, Denesh Ramdin (from Patriots), Yasir Shah and Ravi Rampaul. Rampaul will return to CPL after four seasons and has not played any T20 cricket since 2019.
The Knight Riders will also be without their head coach, Brendon McCullum who opted out of the season due to personal reasons. The assistant coach of the franchise since 2013, Imran Jan, has earned a promotion to the head coach’s role this season.
One of the more consistent sides in the CPL history alongside the Guyana Amazon Warriors, experience has always been Knight Riders’ strength. In fact, it is probably this experience that separates the Knight Riders from the Warriors which has helped them cross the finish line while the latter have suffered five defeats in the final.
The experience also lends them adaptability. In 2019, when the Knight Riders finished fourth, they had a troubled time facing spin, averaging only 20.4, the second-lowest in the season. In 2020, in much tougher conditions to counter spin, they improved their average to 42.1. The next best were the St. Lucia Kings far behind at 21.8. That, while maintaining the highest strike-rate against them - 115.8.Bossing the opposition spinners allowed them to go all guns blazing at the death. They had a strike-rate of 214.8 while averaging 42.4 in overs 16 to 20, again, miles ahead of other sides.
Skipper Kieron Pollard has been the common factor in both. Against spinners, he produced 82 runs at a strike-rate of 200, losing his wicket only once. At the death, he averaged 83 while striking at 259.4. He is the prime white-ball batsman in West Indies when judged in concoction of form and experience. While the Knight Riders have a lot of players to look forward to, Pollard will be their rock in the middle-order.
Dwayne Bravo is a big miss. You don’t have to go too far back to estimate his value in the side. He skipped the 2019 season and the Knight Riders finished fourth. They were the most expensive bowling side at the death that season, leaking 11.6 runs per over.
Bravo returned in 2020, playing a pivotal part in turning Knight Riders into the most economical bowling side in the last five overs - 8.2 runs per over. He delivered 15 of these overs, more than double of the next best - Ali Khan with 7.1 overs. His absence leaves the void of a certified death bowler. Isuru Udana will step in those shoes.
Bravo batted only thrice in the 10 games he played in CPL 2020 but enriched their batting resources. Given that Sikandar Raza is also missing, the Knight Riders’ batting depth takes a hit. They would now have Isuru Udana batting at seven, too high for him, especially in a line-up that is likely to open with Sunil Narine.
In other possible scenarios, they can play both Tim Seifert and Ramdin but one of them will be batting out of position at seven. Or, they can open with Seifert and pull Narine down to seven. Since he has started to open, in 2017, Narine has averaged only 8.3 at seven. Hence, someone will have to give in for the team’s cause.
The Knight Riders had to replace Sandeep Lamichhane with Yasir Shah as the only wrist-spinner in the squad. Shah has not played any white-ball cricket this year and averaged 40.3 for his 10 wickets in 13 T20s in 2020. Evidently, there are a few gaps in the Knight Riders’ camp that their peers can exploit.
Probable First-Choice XI
Most of the Knight Rider’s XI pick itself. A major decision they have to make is whether they want a batting option at seven or an extra bowling option. In case of the former, Pollard will have to step up as the sixth bowling option.
Lendl Simmons, Sunil Narine, Colin Munro, Darren Bravo, Tim Seifert (wk), Kieron Pollard (c), Denesh Ramdin/Kharry Pierre, Isuru Udana, Yasir Shah, Jayden Seales, Ali Khan
Trinbago Knight Riders will kick-start the tournament facing Guyana Amazon Warriors in the lung opener on 26th August.