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CPL 2021: St Kitts & Nevis Patriots could pose favourites Trinbago Knight Riders their stiffest challenge

Covid-19-related issues have hurt most teams, but the tournament could return to being the party it usually is after a quiet 2020

Deivarayan Muthu
CPL 2021 is set to kick off in St Kitts on August 26, with Warner Park allowed to host fans up to 50% capacity of the 8000-seater venue - as long as they show proof of vaccination to enter the stadium facility. After a fairly quiet event last year, the league could well return to being the party it always promises to be this season, and here, ESPNcricinfo runs the rule over each team in the tournament.

Trinbago Knight Riders

Coach: Imran Jan (replacing Brendon McCullum, who is unavailable because of Covid-19-related travel restrictions)
Captain: Kieron Pollard
Overseas players: Colin Munro and Tim Seifert (both New Zealand), Yasir Shah (Pakistan), Isuru Udana (Sri Lanka)
Local hero Dwayne Bravo has moved to St Kitts & Nevis Patriots, but the rest of the Knight Riders' core remains intact, with wicketkeeper-batters Denesh Ramdin and Tim Seifert back in the mix. Colin Munro, who was sidelined from the CPL 2020 knockouts with a finger injury, returns to bolster the side. Munro believes he is done with international cricket, for New Zealand, after being left out for the forthcoming T20 World Cup, but he still has a lot to offer in T20 franchise cricket. At the CPL, he is the most prolific overseas batter ever, with 1753 runs in 53 innings at an average of nearly 40 and strike rate of 137.38.
On the bowling front, Jayden Seales now has international experience, while the trio of Sunil Narine, Akeal Hosein and Yasir Shah, who has replaced Sandeep Lamichhane, take care of the spin attack. The Knight Riders will look to Isuru Udana to bowl the tough overs in the death, something that Bravo did expertly. The Knight Riders are currently on a 12-match winning streak and they have a strong chance to move further up this list.
Verdict: Pollard's men have most bases covered once again and are favourites to win their fourth title in five years, although they won't have the home advantage they enjoyed last season.
Possible XI: 1 Lendl Simmons, 2 Tim Seifert, 3 Darren Bravo, 4 Colin Munro, 5 Kieron Pollard (capt), 6 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 7 Isuru Udana, 8 Sunil Narine, 9 Akeal Hosein/Khary Pierre, 10 Jayden Seales, 11 Ali Khan/Yasir Shah

St Lucia Kings

Coach: Andy Flower
Captain: Faf du Plessis
Overseas players: Faf du Plessis (South Africa), Wahab Riaz and Usman Qadir (both Pakistan), Tim David (Singapore), Samit Patel (England)
Daren Sammy has relinquished the captaincy and joined coach Andy Flower in the Kings backroom after marshalling the franchise to their first-ever final last year, which they lost to the Knight Riders. Faf du Plessis has taken over the captaincy from Sammy, and is likely to start the tournament, according to Flower, after having suffered a concussion at the PSL two months ago. The Kings will, however, be without the Afghanistan trio of Mohammad Nabi, Najibullah Zadran and Zahir Khan, who were central to their success last season. However, they will be bolstered by the Pakistan pair of Usman Qadir and Wahab Riaz. Singapore-born batter Tim David, who has become a hot pick in T20 leagues around the world, could potentially be their finisher. Obed McCoy and Kesrick Williams, who both have a variety of slower balls in their repertoire, could make a formidable death-bowling pair.
Verdict: If du Plessis doesn't recover in time or doesn't hit form, their batting will appear light at Warner Park, which is more batting-friendly than the Queen's Park Oval or the Brian Lara Cricket Academy.
Possible XI: 1 Rahkeem Cornwall, 2 Andre Fletcher (wk), 3 Faf du Plessis (capt), 4 Roston Chase, 5 Tim David, 6 Mark Deyal/Keemo Paul, 7 Samit Patel, 8 Wahab Riaz, 9 Usman Qadir, 10 Obed McCoy, 11 Kesrick Williams

Guyana Amazon Warriors

Coach: Rayon Griffith
Captain: Nicholas Pooran
Overseas players: Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez (both Pakistan), Imran Tahir (South Africa), Naveen-ul-Haq and Waqar Salamkheil (both Afghanistan)
The Amazon Warriors have made five finals, but are still searching for their first title. After being shot out for 55 in the second semi-final last season, they have revamped their side, jettisoning their captain Chris Green, who has now got a late gig with the Jamaica Tallawahs, coach Johan Botha, Ross Taylor and Keemo Paul. Spin will be their stronger suit once again, with Imran Tahir, Kevin Sinclair and Ashmead Nedd leading the attack. But, while Afghanistan quick Naveen-ul-Haq brings with him rich recent form, having been the top wicket-taker in the Vitality Blast, the rest of the seam attack appears a bit iffy. Brandon King, who struggled on the turners in Trinidad, will likely enjoy the ball coming on to the bat at Warner Park in the early exchanges, while usual suspects Nicholas Pooran, Shimron Hetmyer and Shoaib Malik lend muscle and experience to the middle order.
Verdict: Sixth-time lucky? Well, if the batters click in unison, they do stand a good chance of breaking the hoodoo.
Possible XI: 1 Brandon King, 2 Chandrapaul Hemraj, 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Nicholas Pooran (capt & wk), 5 Shoaib Malik, 6 Shimron Hetmyer, 7 Romario Shepherd, 8 Kevin Sinclair, 9 Odean Smith/Nial Smith, 10 Naveen-ul-Haq, 11 Imran Tahir

Jamaica Tallawahs

Coach: Floyd Reifer
Captain: Rovman Powell
Overseas players: Chris Green (Australia), Haider Ali (Pakistan), Qais Ahmad (Afghanistan), Migael Pretorius (South Africa)
The Tallawahs' right-hander-heavy batting line-up last year left them vulnerable to bowlers who take the ball away from them. The inclusion of Kirk McKenzie, who played for West Indies in the most recent Under-19 World Cup in 2020, could break up the sequence of right-handers, but the batting either side of Andre Russell doesn't have a lot of T20 pedigree or experience. The middle-order quartet of Russell, Powell, Asif Ali and Carlos Brathwaite (who might miss the start of the tournament because of a Covid-19-related incident) was more bust than boom in CPL 2020, and they bizarrely sent Mujeeb Ur Rahman in at No. 3 in the semi-final, where he bagged a three-ball duck against the Knight Riders. Qais Ahmad has followed in Rashid Khan's footsteps in becoming a sought-after T20 player, while South Africa's Migael Pretorius is a promising seamer, who can also pitch in with the bat.
Verdict: Once again the pressure will be on Russell to carry the team - both with bat and ball.
Possible XI: 1 Chadwick Walton (wk), 2 Haider Ali, 3 Jason Mohammed/Kirk Mckenzie, 4 Rovman Powell (capt), 5 Andre Russell, 6 Kennar Lewis/Carlos Brathwaite, 7 Migael Pretorius, 8 Chris Green, 9 Fidel Edwards, 10 Qais Ahmad, 11 Veerasamy Permaul

Barbados Royals

Coach: Daniel Vettori
Captain: Jason Holder
Overseas players: Glenn Phillips (New Zealand), Thisara Perera (Sri Lanka), Mohammad Amir and Azam Khan (both Pakistan), Jake Lintott (England)
Chris Morris, the first pick in the draft, has pulled out of the tournament for personal reasons, and Glenn Phillips has been signed on as his replacement. Phillips has been the Tallawahs' top scorer for the past three seasons and, more recently, he was in fine form in the Hundred. He is also set to turn out for the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL. They have also roped in Azam Khan, the son of former Pakistan wicketkeeper-batter Moin Khan. Azam can decimate spin as his strike rate of 165.27 against them suggests; against pace it drops to 133.84. Oshane Thomas has moved from the Tallawahs, while left-arm wristspinner Jake Lintott, who was the highest wicket-taker for the Southern Brave in their run to the inaugural men's Hundred title, is another player to watch out for.
Verdict: The Royals have quite a few in-form and X-factor players who could take them to the knockouts.
Possible XI: 1 Johnson Charles (wk), 2 Glenn Phillips, 3 Kyle Mayers, 4 Shai Hope, 5 Jason Holder (capt), 6 Azam Khan, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Hayden Walsh Jr, 9 Jake Lintott/Mohammad Amir, 10 Raymon Reiffer/Ashley Nurse, 11 Oshane Thomas

St Kitts & Nevis Patriots

Coach: Simon Helmot
Captain: Dwayne Bravo
Overseas players: Ravi Bopara (England), Paul van Meekeren (Netherlands), Fawad Ahmed (Australia), Asif Ali (Pakistan)
The Patriots were the worst-hit team by the Covid-19 pandemic and the last-minute reshuffle in CPL 2020. Coach Simon Helmot, who had missed that season after testing positive, will reunite with Dwayne Bravo, with whom he had won the title, representing Trinidad & Tobago Red Steel in 2015. Chris Gayle, too, returns to the Patriots after missing the last season for personal reasons. Allrounder Fabian Allen is back as well, having been ruled out of CPL 2020 after missing his flight from Jamaica to Barbados. He's turning the ball a lot more these days and has shown glimpses of elite power-hitting, which could make him a future superstar in T20 cricket.
The South African pair of Anrich Nortje and Rassie van der Dussen and Sri Lanka legspin-bowling allrounder Wanindu Hasaranga, however, will be unavailable due to national commitments. The absence of Nortje, in particular, has weakened the seam attack, although Netherlands' Paul van Meekeren's recent form is encouraging. He was Durham's second highest wicket-taker in the Royal London One-day Cup with 14 strikes in seven games at an economy rate of 5.53.
Verdict: With their sensational batting line-up and steady bowling attack, the Patriots could seriously challenge the Knight Riders for the title this year.
Possible XI: 1 Evin Lewis, 2 Chris Gayle, 3 Joshua da Silva (wk), 4 Sherfane Rutherford, 5 Asif Ali/Ravi Bopara, 6 Fabian Allen, 7 Dwayne Bravo (capt), 8 Rayad Emrit, 9 Fawad Ahmed, 10 Sheldon Cottrell, 11 Paul van Meekeren

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo