Sunil Narine, Kieron Pollard star as Trinbago Knight Riders secure home qualifier
Trinbago Knight Riders 128 for 4 (Simmons 51, Ramdin 32*, Pollard 26*) beat St Kitts & Nevis Patriots 125 for 7 (Evans 55, Jordan 3-30, Narine 2-10, Ali Khan 2-22) by six wickets
Defending champions Trinbago Knight Riders launched CPL 2019 with four wins in a row, but they suddenly cooled off, going winless in their last six games in the lead-up to the playoffs. Their slump coincided with the recurrence of a finger injury for Sunil Narine. But, in the eliminator against St Kitts & Nevis Patriots at Providence Stadium, Narine - injured finger and all - marked his comeback with 2 for 10 in his four overs to limit Patriots to 125 for 7 on a sluggish track under overcast skies to set up the win. During a sideline interview, Patriots' coach Robin Singh was critical of his batsmen, saying, "You can't let a guy who has a broken finger end with 2 for 9  in four overs."
Patriots' bowlers then briefly made their total look bigger than it was with clever pace variations and despite Lendl Simmons' stop-start half-century - his fifth this season - Knight Riders fell behind the asking rate on a pitch where stroke-making was difficult.
When Simmons holed out for 51 in the 16th over, Knight Riders still needed 48 off 27 balls. Enter captain Kieron Pollard. He had injured his quadricep in the outfield in the first innings, but he shook that off to smash 26 off nine balls to lead his side into the second qualifier, scheduled at Brian Lara Stadium in Tarouba, the same venue where they had won back-to-back titles in 2018.
ALSO READ: Khary Pierre, Trinbago Knight Riders' master of thrift
Beware of the wounded spinner
Nursing an injured index finger, Narine didn't put enough revs - and body - into the ball, but he still found enough turn and bounce on a helpful pitch to trouble Patriots' line-up. He didn't concede a single run off the bat in his first two overs and continued to straitjacket the batsmen.
He struck in his second over when he slowed down a stock ball and had Evin Lewis chipping a return catch for 9 off 17 balls. And later, when Laurie Evans and Devon Thomas were in rebuilding mode, he snapped the 51-run partnership - the highest in the match - by trapping the wicketkeeper-batsman with the last ball of his spell. Despite obvious pain, Narine sent down as many as 19 dots and returned 2 for 10.
Narine's comeback also solved Knight Riders' puzzle at the top. He opened with Simmons and cracked two fours before holing out to deep square-leg.
Evans evens up proceedings
When Evans walked out to bat, Patriots were 30 for 2 in the sixth over. While the Sussex batsman didn't take any undue risks against Narine, he found a way to pick off runs against left-arm spinners and childhood buddies Khary Pierre and Akeal Hosein. He jumped outside leg, narrowed down the angle, and regularly launched them inside-out over extra-cover. All told, Evans hit 33 runs from 21 balls off Pierre and Hosein.
Evans also went after Chris Jordan and raised his fifty off 44 balls with a nifty leg-side clip for four. Just when it looked like Evans would crank up the tempo further, he scythed USA seamer Ali Khan to sweeper cover for 55 off 47 balls in the penultimate over of the Patriots innings. Jordan then got rid of Fabian Allen in the final over and pinned down Patriots with his accurate yorkers.
Barring Evans, no other Patriots batsman passed 20. Keron Cottoy scrambled a brace of fours, but could not get his side in the range of 140, which the team was looking for.
Simmons, Pollard save the day for TKR
After Alzarri Joseph dismissed Narine, Sheldon Cottrell stormed through the weak defences of Colin Munro and brought out his trademark salute. Then it was 31 for 3 when Darren Bravo swung slower-ball specialist Rayad Emrit to Cottrell at deep square-leg - the only man in the outfield on the leg side.
Simmons got going with a lusty club over extra-cover off Joseph, but the clatter of wickets around him forced him to shelve some of his aggression. Denesh Ramdin, the vice-captain, neither found the gaps nor the boundaries in the early exchanges, and by the end of the tenth over, Knight Riders were 43 for 3, and Patriots' slower bowlers kept hiking the asking rate.
Simmons raised his fifty off 46 deliveries when he smeared Carlos Brathwaite for a mighty six over the midwicket boundary. But, when he attempted an encore the next ball, he picked out long-on.
Pollard then snatched the momentum with a shovelled six over square leg and then, as if a switch had been flicked on, Ramdin too unleashed some big blows in an 18-run over off Cottrell. From 13 off 30 balls, Ramdin moved to 32 not out off 38 balls, but it was Pollard who sealed victory with a hat-trick of boundaries.
Pollard dominated the celebrations, too, raising his hands towards his ears and staring at the Guyana crowd, as if to say, "Yeh Guyana talk nah."