Terrific T&T blaze into semi-finals
Trinidad and Tobago, powered by a fearless batting performance, secured the final spot in the semi-final line-up of the Champions League. Their batsmen thrilled the Hyderabad crowd by playing a shot a ball during a relentless assault on the Eagles that propelled them to 213 for 4, the highest total of the tournament. And it wasn't even Kieron Pollard who devastated the bowling, although he did contribute at the end; the damage was inflicted by Adrian Barath, William Perkins and Lendl Simmons. To seal their place in the final four, T&T's bowlers just had to ensure Eagles didn't reach their target in 14.2 overs. They did that, but only after overcoming an early scare.
The Eagles were perhaps the most unheralded team at the start of the tournament. But despite the lack of international players in their ranks, they were tenacious, punching above their weight, keeping calm in tense situations, and progressed into the second round. Rilee Rossouw led the charge today, blazing 44 off 19 balls, and propelled the Eagles to 50 off only 3.4 overs. They pillaged 77 runs from the Powerplay and raced to 100 off 56 balls. However, their desperate pursuit of runs forced errors and Rossouw's dismissal, with the score on 81 for 2, ended Eagles' slim chances of reaching the target before the 15th over. They continued to fight manfully, pushing for what would have been an impressive consolation victory, but eventually fell 24 runs short.
T&T's enterprising style of play in India had already made them the most exciting side of the tournament, but today they turned the intensity up several notches. Their batsmen didn't merely try to time their shots and find gaps in the field, they wound-up and swung hard, aiming to smash the ball with every ounce of power they could summon. Adrian Barath, playing his first game because Darren Bravo was unfit, scored 63 off 41 balls and blitzed 64 off the Powerplay with Perkins. Lendl Simmons then blazed to 40 off 25 balls, Pollard chipped in with 23 off 13, and the spectators were treated to T&T's newest finisher, Navin Stewart, who ransacked 33 off 11. There were 13 sixes and 18 fours in all in the innings, and the carnage left the Eagles shell-shocked.
The Eagles' hopes of restricting T&T to a total they could achieve in 14.2 overs began to vanish in the first over. Perkins was the pace-setter, cover-driving Victor Mpitsang through cover, clearing the boundary in the same region, before slashing over the third-man boundary. Barath didn't take long to join in, carving Mpitsang over the backward point boundary as well. Cornelius de Villiers, Eagles' best bowler in their last two games, wasn't spared either. Soon, the opening partnership was a blur of flashing bats and balls speeding through and over the infield.
The Eagles received fleeting relief when Thandi Tshabalala beat Perkins' cut with a slow offbreak, but normal service resumed the very next ball. Tshabalala greeted Simmons with a friendly full toss and watched it disappear over long-on. With his confidence soaring, Simmons square drove the next ball for four and stamped out any thoughts of an Eagles fightback. Barath had been the quieter partner until then, because he hit relatively fewer boundaries initially, but he opened his shoulders to swing Tshabalala over long on and reached his half-century off 34 balls.
Boeta Dippenaar had been forced to make frequent bowling changes right through and he brought de Villiers back in the 14th over. It cost the Eagles 20 runs. Barath carved the first ball over the point boundary and drilled the last straight down the ground. In between those shots, Simmons sent the ball speeding to fine leg and cover point. Simmons fell soon after - he was Ryan McLaren's first wicket of the tournament - and Barath and Pollard followed in subsequent overs. The damage had already been done, though, but the only player from Tobago in the XI wasn't going to relent. Stewart had replaced Samuel Badree in the XI, and was promoted ahead of Daren Ganga and Denesh Ramdin to give the innings an explosive finish. He did precisely that, ransacking 27 runs off the penultimate over bowled by du Preez, ensuring that the Eagles would need a miraculous effort to win, never mind qualify for the semi-final.
There aren't too many ways to go about chasing 214 in 14.2 overs, and Rossouw began by smacking the last two balls of Ravi Rampaul's first over down the ground for four. He improved on that against Dwayne Bravo, lofting the last two balls of his first over for monstrous sixes on the leg side. Morne van Wyk also wasted no time, dispatching Rampaul to the midwicket and square-leg boundary before scoring a hat-trick of fours against Sherwin Ganga. It was adrenalin-saturated action and Rossouw, who was dropped on 31 by Daren Ganga off Simmons, heaved the same bowled over the midwicket boundary.
The breakthroughs eventually came off tame deliveries. Sherwin Ganga delivered two straight full tosses, both van Wyk and Adrian McLaren played across the line and were trapped in front. Rossouw continued to fight a losing battle; one attempted six didn't come off and he was caught on the deep midwicket boundary, easing T&T's nerves.
The 24-run victory was T&T's third win in League A, and they topped the group with six points, setting up a semi-final clash against either Victoria or Cape Cobras in Hyderabad.
George Binoy is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo