The Zouks *Might* Be For Real

2020 just keeps getting weirder by the month.

It’s no secret that the new decade is off to a turbulent start that nobody could have expected. Covid-19, working from home, politicization of wearing masks and social distancing, falling economies, no fans at sporting events, the Rise of Karens…everything is weird. What’s possibly even weirder is that CPL 2020 sees the re-renamed St. Lucia Zouks played 4 games and are 3-1 and sitting 2nd in the standings only to the undefeated Trinbago Knight Riders with a game in hand.

Image via CPL T20 Ltd. 2020

The Zouks are and have been notorious for being one of the worst of the Caribbean Premier League since its inception in 2013. Their first two seasons combined for winning they combined for 4 wins out of 16 games played. They wouldn’t cross 10 total wins until become the Stars in 2016, where the franchise had their best season, going 6-4 and finishing 3rd the regular season, eventually finishing 4th in the tournament. The very next season, they went winless in 9 games with one match against the St. Kitts and Nevis Patriots made a No Contest.

In 2018 saw some of their worst games in franchise history. In 2 games they would have a combined 168 runs: 95 runs all out against the newly renamed Trinbago Knight Riders (They had to chase 195/6) and 69 runs in 12.3 overs against the St. Kitts and Nevis Patriots. And it’s not like the roster that season lacked any batting power either. Check some key players on the roster:

Guys like former captain Kieron Pollard and Lendl Simmons, who’d go on to the Knight Riders from 2019; Qais Ahmed one of my personal favorites (peep the slides as to why) who went to the Amazon Warriors and helped them go undefeated up until the final, Chanderpaul Hemraj, who also would go to Guyana to add firepower to their batting lineup; and their regulars such as captain and local hero Darren Sammy and franchise regulars Rahkeem Cornwall, Andre Fletcher and Obed McCoy.

So how did the Zouks go from Zouking it up year after year to becoming arguably the 2nd best CPL team in CPL through 4 games so far, and currently riding a 3 game winning streak? The newcomers might have something to do with the change in fortunes:

Image via CPL T20 Ltd. 2020

All-rounder Roston Chase, fresh off a Test series campaign against England, seems to have hit his stride in the 20 overs format. His first match against the Jamaica Tallawahs saw him put up 52 runs against 42 balls, with 4 fours and 2 sixes. He didn’t bowl in the first game, a mistake the Zouks won’t make for the rest of the tournament.

In their 2nd match against last year’s champion Barbados Tridents, he bowled 2 overs and only allowed 8 runs while taking 2 wickets. In his 3rd match, while only scoring 4 runs, he had a bowling clinic against the Patriots: 4 overs, 12 runs, 3 wickets, 14 dot balls, and a run economy of 3.00. No boundaries. Their most recent win against the Amazon Warriors saw his best batting performance for the tournament: 66 runs off 51 balls, 5 fours and 2 sixes. Roston made his debut in CPL in 2018 after being named Best Regional Limited-Overs Cricketer of the Year by Cricket West Indies. After taking a hiatus in 2019, he’s given the Zouks much needed versatility in their lineup, as a wicket-taker and a runs-scorer.

Image via DNA India

Scott Kuggeleijn (love saying his name!) making his CPL debut has broken a lot of stumps since signing on for the Zouks, leading the league in wickets with 10 and has St. Lucia in a tie with the Amazon Warriors for the lead in team wickets (28).

While his first game he did get a wicket, he still allowed 42 runs in the process. Next game, the runs remained high, but the wickets came. A 2/28 performance against the Tridents, followed by a massive 4 wicket performance against the Patriots and then a 3/24 outing against the Amazon Warriors. Already put on notice as a wicket-taker, if Kuggeleijn could lower his run economy going forward, he’ll be seen as one of the most devastating bowlers in CPL, if the Kiwi isn’t considered one already.

Image via CPL T20 Ltd. 2020

Another all-rounder the Zouks added this year, Mohammed Nabi out of Pakistan has shone brightly as a middle-order batsman and as a regular in St. Lucia’s bowling attack. In the bowling game, he hasn’t allowed more than 20 runs in the tournament through 4 matches, and his run economy is top 5 lowest in the league while bowling more than 10 overs (4.71). He’s 2nd only to Kuggeleijn in wickets for the Zouks (3rd in the league). He’s a danger to opposing batsmen whenever he makes a run up.

His batting has been commendable as well. After opening the tournament with 13 off 9 balls against the Tallawahs, the Afgan began to pick up the runs as the tournament goes on. He had 15 crucial runs off 6 balls in the rain shortened match against the Tridents, then followed that up with a tournament high 35 off 22 balls, 3 going for six. Against the Amazon Warriors he provided 27 runs off 24 balls to assist Roston Chase in what was an otherwise lackluster batting performance.

Najibullah Zadran from Afganistan is also a good contributor of that middle order batting lineup with two 20+ run performances so far. He’s also put his fielding on display with a contender for Catch of the Tournament:

It’s great that the Zouks have two players in the middle of the batting order that they can depend on for runs if their heavy hitters fall. Together with Nabi’s unwillingness to give up runs, the Zouks again with versatility on their side and depth in the batting lineup, will be a problem for teams going forward.

Image via CPL T20 Ltd. 2020

I would be remissed if I didn’t mention some of the Zouks regulars. Darren Sammy once again captaining the team on the pitch. He hasn’t been great batting the ball but he’s sure to find form soon; he’s contributed to 4 wickets out in the field as well. St. Lucia’s regular opening batsman and main-stay at wicket-keeper Andre Fletcher has had a steady start to the tournament with 96 runs through 4 matches. Rahkeem Cornwall picked up a bit of a knock against The Amazon Warriors on Sunday but should be ready to play the Knight Riders on Wednesday. He’s still a boundary getter and a steady bowler. Kesrick Williams has taken 5 wickets for the tournament so far this season.

The Zouks also have some young prospects that have been a part of the success as well. Trinidadian Mark Deyal (via the Knight Riders) put up 30 off 17 (3 sixes) against the Patriots. 19 year old Kimani Melius made his CPL debut in relief of Cornwall. Chemar Holder took his first two wickets in the late stages of the Zouks win against Guyana.

With the Zouks approaching the halfway stage of the regular season, it’s looking as if we’ll be seeing them in the playoffs as long as the play holds up. It’s unclear whether this is the start of a new dawn in St. Lucia or if it’s really a glitch in the simulation that is 2020. But right now, the Zouks are riding high and their next game against the league leading Knight Riders would give us a sense of how serious rest of the CPL should take them going forward.

Image via The Indian Express