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Khary Pierre: Trinbago Knight Riders' master of thrift

Having learnt from the best in Sunil Narine, the left-arm spinner has become adept in stifling batsmen in Powerplays, to Trinbago's benefit

Deivarayan Muthu
Getty Images

Getty Images

You would probably struggle to find a more star-studded T20 line-up than Trinbago Knight Riders': Kieron Pollard, Sunil Narine, Colin Munro, Lendl Simmons, Darren Bravo (who has also become a white-ball monster) - and not to forget the injured Dwayne Bravo - are among the most sought-after T20 players in the world, let alone the Caribbean Premier League (CPL). In such a power-packed side, the unassuming Khary Pierre, who bowls unglamorous left-arm fingerspin, often slips under the radar. He doesn't turn the ball much, doesn't engage in crazy celebrations either. But he relentlessly attacks the stumps, and has established himself as Knight Riders' go-to bowler, particularly in the Powerplay.
Since the start of CPL 2018, Pierre has been second only to Guyana Amazon Warriors' Chris Green among fingerspinners (who have bowled more than ten overs), in terms of economy rate in the Powerplay. All told, Pierre has bowled 21 overs in the Powerplay in this period, conceding just 129 runs at an economy rate of 6.14 while picking up six wickets. Narine, Pierre's senior partner at Knight Riders, has also bowled 21 overs in the Powerplay since the start of CPL 2018, and has a more impressive economy rate of 4.28. But, well, Narine is Narine, one of the best, with more variety in his repertoire.
Last week, even as JP Duminy shellacked a 15-ball fifty, the fastest in the CPL, to vault Barbados Tridents to 192 for 5 in Bridgetown against Knight Riders, Pierre held his own, returning 2 for 24 in his four overs that included 12 dots.
In a recent interview with The Cricket Monthly, Samuel Badree, a former Powerplay specialist himself, said: "In T20 cricket you can't go searching for wickets. Batsmen have to come at you. That will create opportunities in itself."
When we asked Pierre about the challenges facing him while bowling in the Powerplay with just two men outside the circle, he echoed Badree's thoughts, saying his primary aim is to ramp up the pressure through dot balls.
"I just try to keep it as tight as possible," Pierre told ESPNcricinfo after his thrifty spell against Tridents. "The batsman will come at you and [will] make a mistake. If you tend to go at them, you can leak runs. Sunil also tells me 'don't go looking [for wickets] and let the batsman come to you.' I try to bowl as much dots a possible.
"Bowling in the Powerplays is a tough job, with just two fielders out of the circle and batsmen are always going after you. I don't try to be too predictable - when you're too predictable, that's when the batsmen try to get on top of you. Thinking what the batsman is about to do, that helps me in the Powerplay as well. I tend to watch the batsman a lot and tend to stick to what I know and do best. I don't always go for wickets and I try to contain the batsman and let him make a mistake. It's also about being proactive than reactive in the Powerplay."
Pierre's smarts came to the fore in the 2018 CPL final against Guyana Amazon Warriors in Tarouba, where he was named the Player of the Match. This, after he had largely played understudy to Narine and legspinner Fawad Ahmed in the early stages of the tournament. In fact, Pierre was benched for the qualifier against St Kitts & Nevis Patriots, but returned for the final to help Knight Riders seal back-to-back titles.
In the final, Luke Ronchi had hit Pierre out of the attack in the Powerplay, clouting back-to-back boundaries, and then taken on Narine as well. But Pierre bounced back strongly to have Ronchi holing out in the 11th over. After seeing Ronchi manufacture some swinging room, Pierre held one back wide of off and had the batsman chipping a catch to a straight-ish sweeper cover.
"Ronchi took me out in my first over. I wasn't flustered or anything because I knew they will come hard at me," Pierre recalled. "I was bowling well and they were trying to put me off my line. But, with the field back, the captain (Dwayne Bravo) gave the ball back to me. I just backed myself and trusted my ability and it came off.
"I've played with Sunil [Narine], Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and Darren Bravo at Trinidad. They know my game, so they have faith in my ability. It's easy to go out and perform, knowing these guys have my back"
Khary Pierre, on playing for Trinbago Knight Riders
"Winning the Man-of-the-Match award in the CPL final has been the biggest cricketing moment in my career so far. There were lot of senior players and international stars in that match, but being a youngster and putting my hand up in the final was tremendous for me. That was a motivational factor for me in terms of putting my hand up."
Two balls after dismissing Ronchi, Pierre shortened his length and found just enough turn to scratch the outside edge of Chadwick Walton's bat, sending him back for 1. There would be no way back for Amazon Warriors after that. Daren Ganga, who was on TV commentary, screamed: "This young man is going places."
After that, Pierre did go places. He broke into West Indies' limited-overs sides and even won the T10 league in Sharjah under Darren Sammy with Northern Warriors.
Narine and his spin coach Carl Crowe, who works with both the Knight Riders franchises in the CPL and in the IPL, have played crucial hands in Pierre's rise. Having played club cricket with Pierre, Narine is familiar with the left-armer's strengths and Crowe has also worked on it, helping amplify the threat and making Pierre believe he can succeed at the international level too.
"Sunil is an international bowler and one of the word's best bowlers, so for me it's a pleasure to be sharing the dressing room with him," Pierre said. "I'm very comfortable with him on the field as well - if anything happens, I can talk to him and he'll give me advice as well. Carl Crowe being part of TKR throughout 2018, that helped my game a lot. He saw something in me that I hadn't seen myself. He told me I'm good enough to play for West Indies and to play at the highest level.
"When I sometimes try to spin the ball, it goes on straight, and it was Crowe who pointed it out [the natural variation] to me. He told me everybody is different and so I may not be like some other bowler. He asked me to perfect what I do and not to overthink when I bowl."
Crowe even spent time with Pierre in Trinidad to smoothen his action, but his road to the top has been anything but smooth. Pierre, one of six siblings, grew up in Chenette Alley in Port of Spain, and had to contend with not seeing his mother for 21 years, until she returned to meet him in 2018; she had moved out of the Caribbean in search of a better life for herself and the family, but Pierre explained she kept tracking his performances and has always encouraged him to achieve new highs.
"Growing up, I didn't see my mom much and I think that toughened me up as a cricketer," he said. "She was away and I had to provide for my family and all that stuff. We talk a lot on Facebook and Skype. She always praises me and motivates me. Before every game, she calls me, wishing me well and wishing my team-mates well. I cherish all of that, but she hasn't seen me play live yet. I'm looking forward to that day."
Pierre didn't get a chance to play youth cricket for West Indies or his regional side, but kept persevering and gradually worked his way up the ranks, thanks to his stint with Queen's Park Cricket Club. He used to wheel away at the nets and got himself acquainted with bowling on the dew-slicked Trinidad pitches, something that has come in handy at the CPL.
"I grew up playing cricket at the Queen's Park Oval," he said. "So I know the ground inside out. It's about drying the ball constantly - it will get wet - but the mind shouldn't be set on the [condition of the] ball. Your mind should think about what you want to do with the ball. When you focus on other things, the wet ball won't play a part in your mind. "
"Growing up, I didn't see my mom much and I think that toughened me up as a cricketer. She was away and I had to provide for my family and all that stuff"
Pierre's childhood challenges more than prepared him for the cricket field
It has been an incredible past few weeks for Pierre at the CPL. Ahead of this season, he played with his childhood hero Brian Lara during an exhibition match, became Knight Riders' No. 1 spinner when Narine suffered a recurrence of a finger injury, and then celebrated his 28th birthday with his "TKR family". Can he cap the season by spinning Knight Riders to a hat-trick of CPL titles?
"The family atmosphere makes TKR one of the most successful franchises," he said. "I've played with Sunil, Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and Darren Bravo at domestic level at Trinidad. They know my game, they know what I do, so they have faith in my ability. It's easy to go out and perform for the team, knowing that these guys have my back. We look out for each other and it's a pleasure to play in such an atmosphere where the players back each other 100%.
"I'm just taking it step by step. Not looking too far ahead [to West Indies' internationals]; we have some important games coming up for TKR. It's very important that we bounce back from the [recent] losses and try and make it three in a row for TKR and then take it from there."

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo