Superstar Andre Russell perished for a first-ball ‘duck’ as St Lucia Zouks uncorked a sterling performance to stun Jamaica Tallawahs by 11 runs in the final match of the preliminary round and gain precious momentum ahead of Tuesday’s semi-finals of the Caribbean Premier League.
Having posted only 145 for six off their 20 overs after opting to bat first at the Brian Lara Stadium on Sunday, Zouks seemed destined to end their campaign with a defeat, especially after Glenn Phillips (49) and Jermaine Blackwood (25) put on 84 for the first wicket in reply.
But the match quickly turned on its head thanks to Jamaican leg-spinner Javelle Glen (3-16) and 21-year-old Afghan left-arm spinner Zahir Khan (3-25), the pair scything through the innings to send seven wickets crashing for 19 runs.
In strife on 103 for seven in the 17th over, Tallawahs rallied briefly through Nicholas Kirton’s 15-ball 25 but once he was castled by seamer Kesrick Williams (2-27), Zouks took firm command of the game to win comfortably in the end.
In a hugely disappointing preliminary campaign, Tallawahs finished fourth on seven points with a mere three wins while Zouks racked up their sixth win to finish level on 12 points with second-placed Guyana Amazon Warriors but with an inferior net run rate.
Tallawahs now face a tall order when they take on unbeaten Trinbago Knight Riders in Tuesday’s first semi-final, at 10 am with Zouks clashing with Amazon Warriors in the second semi-final at 5:30 pm.
In preparation for that crucial fixture, Zouks opted to bat first and were carried largely by Afghan left-hander Najibullah Zadran who top-scored with 35, and Roston Chase (32 not out) and Rahkeem Cornwall (32) who played key roles.
Cornwall thumped two fours and three sixes in a breezy 29-ball knock but was third out, bowled by a Sandeep Lamichhane googly, with Zouks on 53 for three at the end of the eighth.
And when Mohammad Nabi succumbed to a catch at fine leg for two off left-arm spinner Veerasammy Permaul in the 10th over, Zouks had added only a further 10 runs.
But Najibullah arrived to stroke a four and three sixes off 25 deliveries while Chase counted a four and a six in a patient 36-ball innings, the pair adding an important 61 for the fifth wicket to bolster Zouks at the back end.
Tallawahs looked in complete control in the run chase when Phillips hit four fours and a six off 36 balls in energising a productive opening stand with Blackwood.
With Tallawahs on 72 without loss at the half-way mark, Zouks appeared to be out of ideas until Zahir went past Phillips’s uncertain flick to bowl him in the 12th over.
Blackwood struck two fours in a 38-ball knock but never really settled and it was no surprise when he played a frustrated shot in the next over and was caught at the wicket off Glen.
However, it was Zahir who struck the two killer blows in the next over. First, he had captain Rovman Powell (2) brilliantly caught one-handed by opposite number Darren Sammy diving to his left at first slip.
Then, off the very next ball, Russell edged a forward defensive prod for Sammy to snare inches from the turf at first slip, as Tallawahs slumped to 91 for four.
With their talismen gone, Tallawahs fell apart quickly. Chadwick Walton (10) was run out at the striker’s end in the 16th over trying for a second run while Carlos Brathwaite missed a swing and was plumb lbw for one and Permaul was bowled without scoring off the very next ball.
Left-hander Kirton belted a four and a couple of sixes but his dismissal at the end of the penultimate over left Tallawahs with too tall an order in the last over.