“I think this year CPL please allow St. Lucia Zouks to start with four points”, commented Dwayne Bravo on an Instagram post from the official Caribbean Premier League account. It was a forthright dig at St. Lucia’s track record in CPL who have been the perennial underachievers in the tournament’s history. Except 2016 - the only time they reached the play-offs - they have occupied the bottom two spots in the points table since the league’s inception in 2013.
Darren Sammy, an inspirational captain who led West Indies to two T20 World Cup titles has failed to create the same impact.
Every season is a fresh start for Zouks. This year the owners of the Indian Premier League franchise, Kings XI Punjab have acquired the Zouks. This development may have a positive impact on the side like it happened to the Trinbago Knight Riders.
As a result of the synergy, Andy Flower - assistant coach of Kings XI Punjab - is the new head coach of the Zouks.
The Zouks, however, have suffered a few pre-tournament setbacks. The premier-signed and retained batsmen, Rillee Rossouw and Colin Ingram respectively became unavailable due to Covid-19 travel restrictions in South Africa. Their absence is a major blow to their batting arsenal. Similarly, Anrich Nortje will also be absent due to the same reason. They had already lost their first major signing when Chris Gayle withdrew his name from the tournament before the player’s draft.
But all is not dark for Zouks and they do have some things going their way in 2019 which they would like to carry forward in the upcoming season.
Strength & Weakness
After Gayle pulled out, the Zouks would be pleased to keep their opening pair intact. In 2019, they had a demolishing opening combination, which placed them ahead of other sides in taking advantage of the field restrictions.
Rahkeem Cornwall was a central figure in launching Zouks’ innings with the bat. He scored 254 runs in 10 innings at a strike-rate of 191 - the highest by any batsman in the 2019 season having played at least five innings. He will be opening alongside Andre Fletcher who himself can tear the bowlers apart on his day. However, the duo live on the edge with their outrageous strokeplay with possible outcomes ranging from disastrous to supremely successful.
In 2019, the middle order failed to capitalize on the starts provided by the openers. They had the lowest strike-rate for batting positions four to seven and in the death overs, they accumulated runs at only 8 per over - the lowest amongst all sides.
The numbers indicate they lacked a finisher. The Zouks employed Mohammad Nabi for the role this year as their first pick in the players draft. Nabi is one of the most experienced finishers in the T20 circuit and his guile as an off-break bowler adds further value to his presence in their setup. He is the big player who can dictate the team’s chances of making it to the play-offs. Najibullah Zadran, another belligerent hitter of the ball from Afghanistan is available for the full season and will accompany Nabi in stabilizing the middle-order.
Despite the missing players, Zouks’ batting still boasts of an impressive look. However, skipper Sammy’s performance in the lower-middle order will remain key and the allrounder needs to justify his place beyond captaincy.
With the ball, the current and future crop of Caribbean bowlers form the fast bowling core - Kesrick Williams, Obed McCoy and Chemar Holder. Holder was one of Zouks’ more appealing signings at the players draft. A tearway pacer, Holder might have been signed to add teeth to Zouks’ ungainly attack during Powerplays in the previous season. They leaked runs at 8.7 per over - second-worst - without taking many wickets during the field restrictions in 2019.
The Zouks will hope to pick more wickets in the middle-overs. In 2019, they had the worst bowling average alongside the Patriots - 32.9 runs per wicket. They have the Afghanistan wrist-spinner Zahir Khan, a like-for-like replacement for Noor Ahmad who failed to acquire his visa on time to arrive in the Caribbean. Scott Kuggeleijn and skipper Sammy are the other medium-pace options.
The Zouks were quite decent in the death last year going at only 9 runs per over - the best economy rate amongst all sides. Although, none of the bowlers with an economy of under nine, thus driving those exceptional numbers at the death, are a part of the Zouks’ squad this season.
However, none of the bowlers with a positive impact on the economy, i.e those with an economy rate less than 9, are a part of Zouks in 2020. The responsibility rests largely on Williams who went at 9.5 runs per over at the death last year.
Overall, the Zouks should be applauded for assembling a decent squad despite all the player unavailabilities. They have the stars who can pull them through to their second Top-4 finish but also rely heavily on them. The bowling attack is shaped by youngsters and can blow either too hot or too cold.
The first choice playing XI of the Zouks seems quite straight-forward. Coming in as a replacement player, the West Indies’ regular Roston Chase might not find a place given his unfruitful T20 returns. One amongst Mark Deyal and Leniko Boucher will take the wicketkeeping duties and might bat at three.
Rahkeem Cornwall, Andre Fletcher, Mark Deyal/Leniko Boucher (wk), Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Darren Sammy (c), Scott Kuggeleijn, Kesrick Williams, Obed McCoy, Zahir Khan, Chemar Holder
St. Lucia Zouks will begin their campaign facing Jamaica Tallawahs on 19th August.