Head coach Brendon McCullum impressed upon the Trinbago Knight Riders the way to build a T20 dynasty by showing them clips from the Last Dance, the mini documentary series about how Michael Jordan ensured the Chicago Bulls won six NBA titles in the 1990s. The Knight Riders went on to win all their 12 matches in CPL 2020, including a dominating eight-wicket win in the final against the St Lucia Zouks.
This was the Knight Riders’ fourth CPL title in the last six editions, and as McCullum rightly envisioned, this indeed is becoming a dynasty. Both Dwayne and Darren Bravo have been involved in all four triumphs. Anderson Phillip, Colin Munro and Khary Pierre have won it thrice, while Amir Jangoo, Fawad Ahmed, Ali Khan and Sunil Narine are among those who have been on the winning side twice.
McCullum and Nikita Miller have won it twice as a player and now as head coach and spin-bowling coach respectively, while Kevon Cooper has won it thrice as a player and now as the seam-bowling coach.
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The continuity within the squad has certainly helped them ease to a fourth title, but the additions of Kieron Pollard and Lendl Simmons in 2019 and then Pravin Tambe and Sikandar Raza this year have also made a difference. Pollard was adjudged Player of the Tournament, while Simmons was the Player of the Final. The 48-year-old Tambe bowled economically in his three appearances while Raza finished with seven wickets at an average of 15.71.
According to Raza, McCullum laid down a new marker for the Knight Riders from the very beginning. “It started with one game at a time,” Raza told ESPNcricinfo. “We won the first one. We put our focus on the second one. Baz [McCullum] challenged all of us. He wanted to create a dynasty out of this TKR team by telling us that this team has a lot in common with Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.
“He showed us clips of the Last Dance. He wanted to challenge us to write some sort of history, something that hasn’t been achieved before. The idea came from Baz. We all bought into this. One game led to another, and another, and we won twelve out of twelve.”
Raza rated the Knight Riders right up there among the best T20 sides in the world, thanks to the presence of some of the biggest names in franchise cricket. He also said that McCullum gave him a clear role in the team, which helped him prepare accordingly.
“Among all the T20 sides I have been part of, I would most certainly rate this TKR side as the best one going around. It was exciting hitting the nets with Polly [Pollard] and Bravo. These guys will just tee off. I will even add Sunny [Narine] bhai, Lendl and Darren Bravo. These guys hit a long ball as well.
“It was important to have that chat with Baz, to basically have an understanding of my role, what’s expected and train accordingly. Once you have these chats and the role is clear, then training becomes a lot clearer. The takeaway was basically how best I can improve my game with what I have. Polly, Bravo, Lendl and Colin Munro were great guys to talk to.”
Raza’s wickets of left-handers Kyle Mayers and Corey Anderson in the game against the Barbados Tridents came in the slog overs, while his figures of 3 for 15 against the St Kitts & Nevis Patriots were his best performance in the competition.
“With the TKR, one thing that I understood was that it’s the culture we have,” he said. “We didn’t care if we were bowling the first or the last over. Once you are asked to get the job done, you do it the best you can. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t work, it’s okay. You will come back and be asked to do a better job. If you sulk, it will have a ripple effect on your batting and fielding.
“So if you are asked to bowl in the later stages… we have worked hard, we are clear in our plans and we try to execute our skills the best way we can. I thought every over I bowled in the Caribbean was a death over, so there wasn’t much of a change. I had to bowl my best balls, that’s all.”
Raza said that the prolonged preparatory phase also gave him a chance to work on his new variations, including an arm-ball that swings in the air. “If you are not evolving as a cricketer consistently, I think you are missing out. So, yes, I have developed a ball that swings in the air. I bowled a couple of variations on my last Bangladesh tour as well, which I felt were okay but they were still raw.
“We had a lot of training time here and we bowled a lot with Nikita Miller. We bounced off the idea with the back-of-the-hand and the leggie going the other way. Hopefully, I will manage to bowl those deliveries next time I play for Zimbabwe or in one of those leagues.”
Raza, though, could have missed out on being part of the Knight Riders had it not been for their CEO Venky Mysore’s intervention. Raza’s arrival to Trinidad had become a bit of concern due to limited flight options, and he had to go through six transits to reach his destination.
“Harare to Trinidad was a long journey but the credit goes to Venky sir. There was a time when it looked like I wasn’t going to make it to the CPL. They basically asked the TKR to sign a replacement, but Venky sir said ‘No, no, no, we will get our boy’.
“To tell you the truth, he made sure I get there. The journey was Harare-Addis Ababa-Dubai-Amsterdam-Paris-Fort de France-Martinique-Barbados-TKR. As much as it was tough, now that I look back, it was all worth it.”
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