The Saint Lucia franchise of the inaugural Caribbean Premier League opened its account on Friday evening at the Beausejour Stadium with a warmup win over the Saint Lucia Colts, an ersatz agglomeration of principally national team players.
The Zouks, as the Saint Lucia CPL team is called, won by 24 runs after amassing 158.
They were without three of their main players, in the persons of captain Darren Sammy and Tino Best, both on West Indies duty, and middle order batsman Misbah Ul Haq, the Pakistan one-day international skipper having signed just the day before.
Getting the innings off to a dashing start for the Zouks was young Bangladeshi veteran Tamim Iqbal, his national team’s former vice-captain. Grenadian wicketkeeper-batsman Andre Fletcher was the other opener.
These two got the innings off to a fine start, Tamim hitting several fours, which looked as though they might have been sixes had the boundary ropes not been pulled back. He retired after a well-struck 42 off just 29 balls, including eight boundaries, whilst Fletcher withdrew having compiled 32 off 30, with three fours.
At the halfway mark, the Zouks were 89-0 with franchise player Herschelle Gibbs and West Indies opening batsman Devon Smith at the crease. Gibbs hit a quick 20 off 15 balls before his was the first wicket to fall with the total on 116, Alex Antoine the bowler as the former South African tried to clear the ropes.
That brought Windward Islands captain Liam Sebastien in, not a patch on Ul Haq, and Sebastien had only two scoring strokes as he fell shortly thereafter for 5. South African allrounder Albie Morkel was run out on the same score without even facing.
Although Devon Smith recovered from his recent poor run of form for West Indies and took full advantage of a dropped catch to make a run-a-ball 36 with four boundaries, the procession of wickets continued.
What at one point looked like it would have been a towering batting effort petered out into a total of just 158-6 with the two openers retired. It must be noted again, though, that Ul Haq and Sammy would surely play in place of Sebastien and probably Dalton Polius, with the destructive Sammy more than likely batting ahead of Morkel.
Chasing 159, the Saint Lucia Colts actually got off to a decent start. Gaspard Prosper made 15 off 20, Garey Mathurin and Albie Morkel opening the bowling and giving up 15 in their first two overs.
But a few quick changes including switching ends got Mathurin the first wicket at 31. In quick time, Kim Charlery, Mervin Wells and Kaveem Hodge fell to Mathurin, Shane Shillingford and Nelon Pascal, leaving the Colts 36-4. Hodge, the Zouks reserve keeper, was playing as a “guest” for Saint Lucia.
Alex Antoine was the only player to really put his hand up for Saint Lucia. The 26-year-old had five big sixes and two fours in his total of 65 not out off just 43 balls, but with Prosper’s 15 the next-highest score, the Colts ended 134-8 and lost by 24 runs.
West Indies players Mathurin, Shillingford and Pascal had two wickets apiece, with Pascal especially parsimonious, giving up just 12 runs off 3 overs, and well supported by Shillingford, who yielded a mere 23 from his four overs.
All in all, it was a fine fixture, ahead of Tuesday’s opening game against Barbados at Kensington Oval. A crowd of about 200 turned up for a warmup game, more than are usually in the stands even for Windward Islands matches.
When the tournament moves to the Beausejour Stadium on August 6, 8 and 10 for contests against Antigua, Barbados and Jamaica, respectively, the Zouks should be rocking out to their theme song (by Sir Lancealot and Precision Productions) in front of a capacity crowd.
Five things I took away from the Zouks practice match:
1. From the outset, the Zouks appeared committed to running between the wickets. Head coach Andy Roberts and assistant Matthew Maynard have been doing good work.
2. No sixes for the Zouks. Tamim Iqbal hits the ball hard, and he will be really dangerous on smaller grounds, though I suspect they’ll be using the big boundaries at Beausejour. Darren Sammy and Misbah Ul Haq are good hitters, of course.
3. Six sixes for Saint Lucia. Alex Antoine was really the revelation of the night. His stroke-filled 60 was the highlight of the night.
4. Against modest opposition, obviously, but even minus Best and Sammy, there were decent and varied bowling options for the Zouks. Garey, Shane, Albie and Pascal should combine well with the two West Indies players.
5. Especially given that it was indeed against modest opposition, the Zouks middle order really did not give a good showing after a fine platform. Misbah and Darren, as I said, should make a difference. The six wickets fell for just 42.