It’s a scene that’s now familiar, but never gets old: a member of USA Cricket jumping and chanting with teammates under the raised championship trophy of the Caribbean Premier League. CPL 2020 didn’t disappoint on that front.
In 2018, Ali Khan stormed the stage of T20 cricket, helping the Trinbago Knight Riders to the championship, and earning a spot on the 2018 CPL All Star team of the tournament. In 2019, Hayden Walsh Jr, then representing USA Cricket, got his chance to shine, leading Barbados Tridents to the championship and winning the Player of the Tournament award by leading the CPL in wickets. Hayden’s success would earn him a spot on the West Indies white ball teams, a lifelong dream come true, where he would become only the ninth player to represent two nations in T20 cricket. On the final day of CPL 2020, it was Ali Khan back in the spotlight for the Trinbago Knight Riders.
During what can only be described as one of the strangest T20 seasons in history, Ali experienced his share of challenges. In the fifth game of TKR’s season, a matchup against Guyana Amazon Warriors, Ali would leave after bowling just one over with a hamstring injury. Sidelined for four games, and with TKR dominating with spin and medium pace in his absence, Ali was able to ease back into the action bowling only two overs in his return game. Collecting a wicket and conceding 10 in the return, it was clear Ali was back. In the next game, the semi-final against Jamaica Tallawahs, Ali only appeared for one over, the final over of the innings. In the game, the Knight Riders stifled the Tallawahs batting and exclusively featured spin with their first 4 bowlers until DJ Bravo came into the attack in the 13th over. TKR then chased the 108 target easily and advanced the final.
With a day in between the semifinal and final, the pitch was likely to play more balanced, so there was reason to believe that Ali would be back in his regular role. Regardless of the role, Ali was now fit and would be sure to be ready.
“Thanks to God almighty, I’ve recovered well just in time for playoffs,” Ali told Emerging Cricket prior to the Final.
“It’s been a great season for us. As a team, everyone was hungry to come back strong this season after the loss last year, so everyone was extra motivated to win this year,” Ali continued before elaborating on the challenges unique to this season.
“Because of day games, pitches are on a slower and turning side, but as a professional you must be ready to adapt to different conditions and accept the role that the team requires. My roles have been to take wickets early on if I bowl in the power play, and if not then my job is to shut the game down from the other end in the death overs. So far I’m happy with the performances individually, and as a team everyone has stepped up when called upon.”
On the day of the Final, Ali was back in his role, and he was back in all of his glory. Bowling the second over for TKR with Mark Deyal on strike, Ali missed down the leg to the lefty for a wide, and a leg bye on the re-bowl brought Rakheem Cornwall on strike to face the second ball of the over. Ali angled one in to the big man, straight to middle stump, and the aggressive Cornwall went for a drive and came up with air, bowled clean! Just like in 2018, Ali started the CPL final with a wicket in his first over. Two more singles and a last ball four from Andre Fletcher gave St Lucia 8 runs from the over, but the dangerous Cornwall was now in the dugout.
Out of the attack now until the 6th over, Ali came in with Andre Fletcher flying at 23 from 11, and Mark Deyal steady at 14 from 12. With the Zouks 48-1 after five, the pressure was mounting for TKR to do something positive. The confident Fletcher charged Ali on the second and fifth balls of the over, both times smashing the fireballer through the covers for four and holding his pose like only the Spiceman can. This time, 12 runs conceded by Ali in the over, and no wicket to show for it.
Again out of the attack, but with wickets falling in bunches in between, Ali would re-enter in the 16th. Zouks captain Darren Sammy was partnered with Afghan Najibullah Zadran in the middle, and the pair would be trying to score. Zouks had lost some steam to fall to 123/5, but Captain Sammy looked good already, with a six from his first three balls, and Zadran was at 12 from 9. Ali would limit the damage, aside from a four from Zadran. The over went relatively tidy for 6 runs.
Out of the attack again, Ali would come in to follow a brilliant 3 wicket over from the TKR captain Kieron Pollard, and the Zouks were on their literal last leg at 154/9. Every run would surely count here in the 20th in a season where strange things have happened. Bowling from around the stumps to the lefty Zahir Khan, Ali fired in a perfect leg stump yorker to blow by the number 11 batsman and end the innings with TKR needing 155 to win.
During the chase, Lendl Simmons went the distance, scoring 84 off of 49 not out, Darren Bravo scored 58 off of 47, and TKR won by 8 wickets with 11 balls to spare, becoming only the second major T20 franchise to complete a perfect season. Over the past six editions, this is the team’s fourth CPL championship making TKR as much of a dynasty as T20 cricket has seen.
In fact, the Knight Riders are so deep and dangerous that they won the final without DJ Bravo, one of the best T20 bowlers in history, bowling a single ball. When the biggest name on the team doesn’t bat or bowl it just goes to show, like Ali said, sometimes you have to “accept the role that the team requires.”
Want extra Emerging Cricket content? Contribute to the Emerging Cricket Patreon cause from as little as $2 a month. Sign up here!