T20 cricket has been around for more than 17 years. People associated with it - players, coaches, broadcasters - are still educating themselves about the dynamics of the format. Different nuances come to light every year. Of late, one lesson team owners/managements in the franchise based T20 circuit have grasped is to maintain the core of their squad, especially if the team has done well in the previous season.
St. Kitts & Nevis Patriots, couldn't follow this theory this year due to various reasons. Finishing third and making it to the play-offs in the last CPL season, they have have let go their captain Carlos Brathwaite on grounds of middling returns previous season. Robin Singh, their coach previous season also won't be returning for another stint. Brathwaite was replaced by the 39-year old Rayad Emrit for the leadership role. Simon Helmot was announced as the head coach alongside Malolan Rangarajan's name coming ahead as their assistant coach. Helmot, however, tested Covid-19 positive on the day he was supposed to begin his journey from Melbourne to Caribbean. Rangarajan also withdrew as he will now join Royal Challengers Bangalore’s pre-season IPL camp. He will now be working as a strategy consultant. The duo have been replaced by Courtney Walsh (coach) and Mark O’Donnell (assistant coach).
These ain’t the only changes in their first-choice picks. The Patriots have lost on key players like their prime middle-order batter Rassie van der Dussen, all-rounder Fabian Allen and left-rm spinner Dennis Bulli. Like Helmot, Bulli was also tested Covid-19 positive.
Other omissions from the previous season include Laurie Evans (their highest run-scorer last season), Devon Thomas (their primary wicketkeeping-batsman) and Mohammad Hafeez (their most experienced T20 international last year). While Evans made himself unavailable for the season, Hafeez and Thomas might have been dropped because of their underwhelming performance in 2019. To fill the void, the Patriots have added Chris Lynn and Ben Dunk to their squad. The top-order looks the stronger aspect of their squad.
Lynn and Dunk, two T20 specialists from Australia add both experience and firepower to the Patriots’ top-order. Dunk was the third highest run-scorer in the 2020 edition of the Pakistan Super League hammering 266 runs at an average of 53.2 along with a strike-rate of 186. Prior to that, he was the top-scorer in the 2019 Mzansi Super League (415 runs at 51.8 and 149.8). A hot property in the T20 circuit currently, he will certainly take the number three position. In PSL 2020, Lynn was the second highest run-scorer plundering 284 runs at a strike-rate of 180.
Lynn will be opening with Evin Lewis who has been with the franchise ever since its inception in 2015. Together, they form a swashbuckling opening pair, capable of rectifying Patriots’ tepid batting approach during the field restrictions in the 2019 season. Lewis, although, dealt with a high strike-rate (151.1), the next best during the Powerplay was 107 from Evans amongst those who scored over 20 runs in the considered phase. Consequently, the Patriots scored at a substandard rate in the first six overs at 7.7 per over. A good season for the brand new opening pair can set the ball rolling for the Patriots.
While the batting resources have changed, the bowling arsenal is largely the same. Sheldon Cottrell, Alzarri Joseph, Rayad Emrit will be at the helm of the pace bowling department once again. Sohail Tanvir is a wily addition to the squad. It is an exciting pace battery with two left-arm pacers. They have the most potent pace attack in the competition and if all four take the field, it will be a captivating experience to watch the Patriots bowl.
After a boastful top order, Patriots’ batting lacks zeal post Dunk at three. Patriots are handicapped by the unavailability of van der Dussen who had to pull out from the competition due to sealed borders in his country as a consequence of Covid-19.
The South African batsman was drafted into the squad to guide the Patriots through the middle-overs. Scoring 486 T20 runs against spinners since 2018 at an average of 69.4, the right-handed batsman was the perfect candidate to tackle the opponent spinners. Northern Districts’ Nick Kelly who played U19s for New Zealand has replaced him in the squad.
The Patriots also lack a finisher at number six. Ex-skipper Brathwaite who has now moved to Jamaica Tallawahs, performed the role last season. He scored only 99 runs in 11 innings alongside picking 8 wickets yet the void left by Brathwaite as a potential finisher is quite big.
Unfortunately, Brathwaite’s possible replacement, Fabian Allen is also out of the tournament after missing the only chartered flight which could have taken him to Trinidad & Tobago, the venue of the tournament. The mishap means the Patriots won’t be allowed a replacement for him.
Without Allen, the Patriots have to stretch Tanvir and the replacement player, Imran Khan to fulfill the duties of an all-rounder.
It also makes the Patriots are thin in the spin bowling department. In 2019, they were one of the least effective spin bowling sides picking only 12 wickets, the least in the tournament.
Spin has become a vital component in CPL. Guyana Amazon Warriors and Barbados Tridents - the finalists last year - were the only two sides who bowled more than 100 overs of spin.
A good wrist-spinner has become the hallmark of every successful T20 side, let alone in CPL. After keeping their faith in youngsters like Keron Cottoy and Usama Mir last season, Patriots have opted for the experience of Ish Sodhi this year.
Sodhi has had an indifferent time as a T20 leg-spinner in the last two years. He has the highest economy amongst leg-spinners who have bowled 100 overs since 2018. His bowling strike-rate also fails to impress.
The Patriots' bench also looks thin at first glance. Five of the 10 local players in their squad have not played any international cricket. It is an inexperienced squad, which offers little from the bench.
Chris Lynn, Evin Lewis, Ben Dunk, Nick Kelly, Denesh Ramdin (wk), Imran Khan, Sohail Tanvir, Rayad Emrit (c), Alzarri Joseph, Ish Sodhi, Sheldon Cottrell
St. Kitts & Nevis Patriots will begin their campaign on the inaugural day of CPL 2020. They will be playing the second game of the double header - against the defending champions, Barbados Tridents.