After having finished bottom of the table in CPL 2021, Barbados Royals have scripted a remarkable turnaround by topping the table in the league stage this season. They were the first team to make the playoffs. All up, Royals have lost just two games so far - one being an inconsequential match against Guyana Amazon Warriors, and the other a rain-hit one against Jamaica Tallawahs when Rovman Powell hit a timely six to put them ahead of the DLS. ESPNcricinfo decodes Royals' dominant run in CPL 2022.
One of the key ingredients for success in a T20 tournament is giving players clarity about their roles. Despite the absence of their regular captain David Miller and wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock - who were both part of the overseas core - for the last leg of the tournament in Guyana, Royals' management ensured everyone stayed true to their roles.
Before CPL 2022, Kyle Mayers had never captained in senior T20 cricket, but Royals prepped for Miller's departure for South Africa duty in India by easing Mayers into the leadership role in the inaugural 6ixty that preceded the CPL. And Jason Holder, who had led the Barbados franchise - Tridents at the time - to the title in 2019, was around to help smoothen the transition.
According to Holder, the Royals have done an "outstanding job" in ensuring there was transparency in the group, and every player understood his role.
"We know more or less how we want to operate as a franchise," Holder had told ESPNcricinfo. "I think it has been really easy on David [Miller] as captain and now Kyle [Mayers] coming in to replace him.
"You see today (in the match against St Kitts and Nevis Patriots on September 21) it was just like a smooth transition, and I think that's because of how the structure is in the group. I always believe if you've got a strong management in terms of how you operate, how certain things are supposed to be done, everybody knows who they're meant to be and what they're meant to be doing, everything pretty much falls into place. I think you can have any leader once you get that clarity amongst the group - and also good direction - everything else falls into the place."
Mayers himself dashed out of the blocks at the top - his 9 off 20 against Amazon Warriors being an aberration - as did Rahkeem Cornwall. De Kock showed that he has the game and gears to bat at the top as well as in the middle.
Obed McCoy and Holder, who were both tasked with bowling the tough overs, have taken 15 wickets each so far. Pakistan wicketkeeper-batter Azam Khan, who is particularly strong against spin, got an NOC from the PCB to skip the National T20 Cup - the domestic T20 tournament at home - to turn out for Royals once again. In Royals' first game at Providence, which is arguably the most spin-friendly venue in the Caribbean, Azam hit 64 off 42 balls to blindside CPL 2021 champions St Kitts & Nevis Patriots.
Amid the pandemic, CPL 2020 was entirely played in Trinidad, while CPL 2021 was entirely held in St Kitts. With CPL 2022 being hosted by three venues - Guyana being the new addition - squad depth was another important box to tick. Although Miller and de Kock left the tournament early, Mujeeb Ur Rahman joined the squad late after the Asia Cup, and Oshane Thomas, who has had to deal with fitness issues in the recent past, played just three games, Royals constructed a squad that had the depth to win games across conditions.
In IPL 2022, Rajasthan Royals often struggled with the absence of a sixth-bowling option after Nathan Coulter-Nile suffered an injury. In CPL 2022, Royals remedied that by recruiting and backing allrounders Corbin Bosch and Cornwall, who can not just hit sixes, but also contribute with the ball.
And when the ball swung in the early exchanges of the tournament in St Kitts, Mayers himself took the new ball and made inroads for Royals, providing a throwback to the times when he was more of a frontline seamer.
On the spin front, Royals followed their usual template of pairing up an aggressive wristspinner or a mystery spinner with a defensive fingerspinner. In the IPL, it was Yuzvendra Chahal with R Ashwin. In the SA20, it will be Tabraiz Shamsi with Bjorn Fortuin. At the CPL, Royals had two aggressive options in Hayden Walsh Jr and Mujeeb, and two tidy fingerspinners in Joshua Bishop and Cornwall.
Start strongly with bat, finish strongly with ball
Arguably the powerplay and death are the make-or-break phases in a T20 game. Powerplays, in particular, can be challenging for players who are not familiar with the Caribbean conditions where the wind often dictates proceedings. The wet weather was also a factor in the tournament, but Royals found ways to pull ahead even when they lost crucial tosses in day games.
With the bat, Royals were the second-fastest scoring team in the powerplay at a run rate of 7.24. Only St Lucia Kings (8.39) bettered them during this phase, thanks to the vast experience of Faf du Plessis and Johnson Charles.
However, Royals were by far the most economical side with the ball between overs 17 and 20, conceding at just 6.97 an over. During this phase, they also picked up 18 wickets - only Amazon Warriors (20) and Trinbago Knight Riders (20) got more wickets than Royals.
The emergence of Simmonds and Bosch
In their first CPL seasons, uncapped South African allrounder Bosch and local left-arm seamer Ramon Simmonds have contributed handsomely to Royals' success. Simmonds, Royals' emerging pick at the CPL draft, impressed the management so much with his variations and courage to bowl the difficult overs that they added him to their Paarl Royals side for the forthcoming SA20.
"Someone like Ramon Simmonds has really impressed me, particularly because this is the first time I've played with him," Holder told ESPNcricinfo. "To just see his composure under pressure and then him having the confidence to execute slower balls and yorkers to big players at big stages of the game is quite impressive to me.
"I think he has talent that not many people can boast of at such a young age. Once he continues to develop, the sky's the limit for him."
Bosch is also part of the Royals' squads in SA20 and IPL. After having trialled Bosch at No.3 in the 6ixty, Royals gave him an opportunity to bat at that position at the CPL. Bosch seized that with back-to-back half-centuries against Kings and Tallawahs.
Having added an extra yard of pace to his bowling, Bosch pitched in with the ball too. He also adds value in the field by patrolling the hotspots. Against Patriots, he snagged five catches, which is a CPL record.