When most of us think of CPL star power on the domestic player front, the first names that roll off the tongue are of Andre Russell, Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Darren Sammy, Sunil Narine and the like. But this year's tournament has suggested that a change of guard maybe on the cards, with none of those big names taking part in the final, to be played between perennial bridesmaids Guyana Amazon Warriors and a resurgent Barbados Tridents.
In past years, the Amazon Warriors have fallen short after building their team around overseas stars like Rashid Khan, Martin Guptill and Chris Lynn. Most of their additions during draft time in 2019 may have flown under the radar, but coach Johan Botha has cultivated incredible chemistry to produce the most remarkable winning streak in CPL history, currently standing at 11 matches.
Yes, the Amazon Warriors have their share of established talent. Captain Shoaib Malik has provided metronomic consistency in the middle order with 313 runs at an average of 78.25. Imran Tahir's manic sprints have shown few signs of slowing down with each wicket celebration, leading the team with 15 scalps. Chris Green has been miserly and incisive with his new-ball offspin. Nicholas Pooran, Sherfane Rutherford and Shimron Hetmyer have provided the muscle and flair to give them the late kick when needed.
But their improbable record is equally due to the contributions from a number of unheralded and often underappreciated players. Brandon King was taken in the ninth round of the 2019 draft in the traditional US$ 15,000 slot but he is the tournament's leading scorer with 453 runs. Romario Shepherd was taken a round later in the US$ 10,000 position but has needled opposition batsmen with 12 wickets to stem momentum in the middle overs. Chandrapaul Hemraj lasted until round 13 in a US$ 5,000 slot, yet has been a handy foil for King at the top of the order and has also chipped in with key overs of left-arm spin in the powerplay, like the 3 for 15 to plough through the defending champions Trinbago Knight Riders.
The Tridents' record has a few more blemishes, but their formula to reach the final has not been much different. Johnson Charles, discarded by West Indies in 2016, has powered their starts with a team-leading 376 runs. In the same vein as Malik, Tridents captain Jason Holder has been a source of inspiration not just with his 14 wickets, third-highest in the tournament, but for shrewd bowling changes and some special fielding, especially at long-on and long-off in the slog overs.
Though the management misfired with their first overall selection at the draft in the form of Alex Hales, who has yet to score a fifty, coach Phil Simmons has made wise decisions in his choice of replacement players after the draft. Shakib Al Hasan's nuggety knocks and tidy spells have been a late-season bonus. JP Duminy has been a reassuring presence in the middle order and fired the tournament's fastest fifty against the Knight Riders. Harry Gurney's variations have thrown big-hitters out of sync at the death.
The Tridents' bargain shopping has trumped the Amazon Warriors' by some distance too. Raymon Reifer, who iced the semi-final against the Knight Riders by trapping Seekkuge Prasanna for his tenth wicket of the season, was taken in round 14 for US$ 5000. The Tridents mined a diamond in the final round with their US$ 3000 ICC Americas pick, taking USA's Hayden Walsh Jr., who is not only the tournament's leading wicket-taker with 21 in eight matches, but has been the event's most electric fielder. Just ask Pollard, who fell victim to a momentum-shifting run-out by Walsh Jr. on Thursday night.
Saturday night might not be as raucous an occasion at the Brian Lara Academy without the host franchise involved. But there's no doubt it will be a memorable one as the Amazon Warriors pursue perfection while the Tridents try to pull off an upset.
Guyana Amazon Warriors WWWWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Barbados Tridents WLWWL
In the spotlight
Coming into CPL 2019, 24-year-old Brandon King had just one fifty and 267 runs in 14 career T20 innings. But he has four 50-plus scores in his last seven matches. He broke Russell's record on Sunday for the highest score in CPL history, bashing an unbeaten 132 off 72 balls with 11 fours and ten sixes. It was an innings that brought coach Botha to tears, but the tournament's most improved batsman was restrained in his celebrations, an indication that he may have bigger plans in store for the final.
Hayden Walsh Jr. entered the season as the back-up legspinner to Sandeep Lamichhane, the same role he served when the pair was together in 2018 at St Kitts & Nevis Patriots. But when Lamichhane left after the sixth match for national duty with Nepal, Walsh Jr. got an opportunity to come back into the line-up and exploded with a five-wicket haul against the Knight Riders. Walsh Jr. now has a CPL-best 21 in eight matches, has never taken fewer than two wickets in any game, and is a spark plug at backward point.
The only reason the Amazon Warriors may change the line-up that beat the Tridents in the qualifier is if they feel they need another variation bowler at the death. Ben Laughlin is a candidate if so, but if it ain't broke, they are unlikely to fix it.
Guyana Amazon Warriors (probable XI): 1 Brandon King, 2 Chandrapaul Hemraj, 3 Shimron Hetmyer, 4 Shoaib Malik (capt), 5 Nicholas Pooran (wk), 6 Sherfane Rutherford, 7 Keemo Paul, 8 Chris Green, 9 Romario Shepherd, 10 Odean Smith, 11 Imran Tahir
The Tridents leadership will be sweating over Duminy's fitness after he had to retire hurt with what appeared to be a hamstring injury during his innings on Thursday against the Knight Riders. If he can't go, the most likely alternative is Justin Greaves, who scored a half-century earlier this season when Hales left temporarily for the T20 Vitality Blast final.
Barbados Tridents (probable XI): 1 Alex Hales, 2 Johnson Charles, 3 Shakib Al Hasan, 4 Shai Hope (wk), 5 JP Duminy/Justin Greaves, 6 Jonathan Carter, 7 Jason Holder (capt), 8 Raymon Reifer, 9 Ashley Nurse, 10 Hayden Walsh Jr., 11 Harry Gurney
Pitch and conditions
The Tridents fielders looked like they were on ice skates at times in the outfield, which had excessive dew after Thursday's qualifier playoff was pushed back to 8.15pm local time due to transportation problems the Tridents experienced making the drive south from Port-of-Spain to Tarouba. But the final is scheduled for a 5pm start, making the dew less of a factor. The Brian Lara Academy pitch has regularly been challenging for batsmen, and scoring more than 150 batting first hasn't been easy.
Stats and trivia
The Tridents' only CPL title came in 2014, when they beat the Amazon Warriors in the final in St Kitts by eight runs (DLS method). Current Amazon Warriors captain Malik was Man of the Match in the final for the Tridents, scoring an unbeaten 55 off 42 balls. That loss by the Amazon Warriors was the second of four runner-up finishes, including last year.
The tournament's leading wicket-taker has been a part of the champion squad on three occasions: Krishmar Santokie (16) for Jamaica Tallawahs in 2013, Dwayne Bravo (28) for Trinidad & Tobago Red Steel in 2015, and Fawad Ahmed (22) for the Knight Riders in 2018. Only once has the tournament's leading scorer played for the champion team: Colin Munro (567 runs) in 2018 for the Knight Riders.
"If you start thinking about going into a bigger game then you add extra pressure on you. Since we have so many youngsters, my message is still the same. When you come to the ground, whatever responsibilities you get, just try to handle them not thinking about how this is a final because then your brain is only working towards a trophy."
Shoaib Malik on the pressure to end undefeated
"The beauty of our performances so far in this tournament is we've held on in close games. We also lost some close games but the majority of our games we held our nerve and been able to come out on top."
Jason Holder on the Tridents' resilient run to the final