For much of the second half of the match, the Zouks looked like they would get the better of the Jamaica Tallawahs, but that little bit of brilliance from Russell at the end came short, sharp, and before the Zouks knew it, they were shaking his hand at the end of the match.
Russell came to the crease with the Tallawahs in deep trouble, needing 77 runs from 47 balls with the Required Run Rate just over 9.50 runs an over. His first five balls he knocked around for singles, giving the strike to Chris Gayle, but then he started igniting some fireworks of his own. From the last two balls of the 14th over, through to the end, he never stopped.
The Tallawahs were chasing 143 runs for victory after Darren Sammy won the toss and elected to bat first. From very early on, the Zouks were in trouble, losing two of their key batsmen within the first five overs. Andre Fletcher and Misbah-ul-Haq had both failed scoring two and one respectively.
But on Friday night, we were seemingly looking at the wrong end. Tamim Iqbal, who scored a mere 62 runs from four innings before this match, had started positively. By the end of the Powerplay, he had already struck three fours. But no one took him seriously. In his last four matches, he started off similarly, striking boundaries, and then getting out. It was almost a question of when he would get out.
But Tamim had buckled down after the Powerplay, intent on building a partnership with Herschelle Gibbs, and building an innings. In fact, so serious he was about staying at the crease, between the seventh and tenth over, he had struck one four and one six, residing to keep rotating the strike with Gibbs.
It had worked for him. Both batsmen rotated the strike nicely, but the Run Rate never climbed above six runs an over. Just after the halfway stage, the pressure tolled. Gibbs, under pressure to get runs, looked comfortable in getting to 22.
He struck the ball well and was adamant to stay at the crease and build an innings for his team. But when he looked for a quick single after the ball struck his pads, he was well short of his ground.
But Tamim Iqbal’s night continued along positively. He changed gears as the innings wore on, striking Murali for two fours in the 14th over. He built a good partnership with his captain, as both batsmen took the score from 73/3 to 126/4. They had put on 53 runs together.
Between them both, they had struck three fours and three sixes. But when Tamim Iqbal went in the 18th over for 75, a cluster of wickets fell to slow the momentum at the end of the innings.
Notable strikers of the ball, Sammy, Albie Morkel and Devon Smith all went back before the innings closed on 142/7. Sammy had struck 26 from just 18 balls, but Morkel failed to get off the mark while Smith made five.
The total wasn’t great against a Tallawahs batting line-up that boasted of Chris Gayle, Danza Hyatt, Andre Russell, and Vernon Philander, just if things got close. And it was a bittersweet start for Sammy in the field.
There was tremendous pressure from one end, as Garey Mathurin bowled with precision. However, at the other end, Shane Shillingford leaked runs at a rapid rate. By the end of the Powerplay, he had conceded 28 runs from three overs. Mathurin helped out with the wicket of Ahmed Shehzad for 11, and the match was still even.
It was a relief for Sammy once the Powerplay ended. He used his extra fielders in the deep to protect boundaries. Chris Gayle was at the crease, but he seemed dormant after the Powerplay. Nelon Pascal got Nkrumah Bonner with his first ball to leave the Tallawahs in uncertain terms at 40/2.
But Hyatt and Gayle stuck around, trying to build a partnership. The game remained even knit, so much so, after ten overs the Tallawahs were 57/2. Rewind to the Zouks innings, and the hosts were 60/2 at the same stage.
From the outset, it had all the ingredients of a close finish in the making. Mathurin was bowled out early on, finishing with 1-11 from his four overs. But Gayle carried on, becoming the leading run-scorer in the Twenty20 game in the process. After a 26-run partnership with Gayle, Sammy removed Hyatt for 13.
It brought Russell out with his skipper. This was the partnership that could make or break the Zouks. Russell started in fine touch. He hammered two fours and two sixes within his first two overs at the crease. He and Gayle had put on a quick 35 runs from just over three overs.
But even when Gayle was caught at deep mid-wicket for 40, the Required Run Rate was still well above eight runs an over. Philander joined Russell with the Tallawahs needing 38 runs from 28 balls. They would only need 13 of the 28 balls. Together, in an amazing array of hitting, Russell and Philander made the task look elementary.
Shillingford had come back and gotten the wicket of Gayle, but he conceded 13 runs. Nelon Pascal’s third over would be the one that ensured the victory. Philander struck his last three deliveries for 16 runs, including two sixes. The over added up to 19 runs, and at the end of it, the Tallawahs needed 12 runs from 18 balls.
Russell crashed Morkel for two sixes early in the 18th over to fire the Tallawahs to a comfortable six-wicket victory. It was one of those games, a lot closer than the scorecard reflects. Russell’s job wasn’t done.
He was busy walking back and forth at the presentation ceremony, sweeping all three prizes in the Limacol Super Six, Digicel 4G Fastest Scorer, and the Man of the Match prize.
He ended on 47 from 19 balls, while Philander was with him on 18 from five balls. Both had put on an unbroken stand of 41 runs from just 13 balls.
All eyes have been on unbeaten Barbados Tridents, but it’s coming to past; the Tallawahs, meaning to underestimate them at your own peril, could very well do what once seemed the unthinkable.
Saint Lucia Zouks 142-7 (20 overs) Tamim Iqbal 75, Darren Sammy 26, Herschelle Gibbs 22. Vernon Philander 2-31
Jamaica Tallawahs: 146-4 (17.3 overs) Andre Russell 47 not out, Chris Gayle 40
Saint Lucia Zouks
Tamim Iqbal st Carlton Baugh b Muttiah Muralitharan 75
Andre Fletcher+ c Carlton Baugh b Dave Bernard 2
Misbah-ul- Haq c Chris Gayle b Vernon Philander 1
Herschelle Gibbs run out (Philander/Baugh) 22
Darren Sammy* c Ahmed Shehzad b Vernon Philander 26
Albie Morkel c Baugh b Russell 0
Devon Smith run out (Russell) 5
Liam Sebastien not out 2
Garey Mathurin not out 0
Extras: (3lb 4w 2nb) 9
Total: 142/7 (20 Overs)
Did not Bat: Shane Shillingford, Nelon Pascal
Fall of Wickets: 1-10, 2-26, 3-73, 4-126, 5-134, 6-140, 7-140
Bowling: Chris Gayle 2-0-9-0, Dave Bernard 4-0-24-1, Vernon Philander 4-0-31-2 (1w,1nb), Nikita Miller 4-0-31-0 (1w), Andre Russell 2-0-15-1 (1w,1nb), Muttiah Muralitharan 4-0-29-1 (1w)
Chris Gayle c Sebastien b Shillingford 40
Ahmed Shehzad c Fletcher b Martin 11
Nkrumah Bonner c Sammy b Pascal 5
Danza Hyatt c Fletcher b Sammy 13
Andre Russell not out 47
Vernon Philander not out 18
Extras: (2lb 10w) 12
Total: 146/4 (17.3 Overs)
Did not Bat: Jacques Rudolph, Carlton Baugh Jnr. Dave Bernard, Nikita Miller, Muttiah Muralitharan
Fall of Wickets: 1-21, 2-40, 3-66, 4-105
Bowling: Garey Mathurin 4-0-11-1 (2w), Shane Shillingford 4-0-41-1, Nelon Pascal 3-0-32-1 (1w), Darren Sammy 4-0-28-1 (4w), Albie Morkel 2.3-0-32-0 (3w)
Toss: St Lucia Zouks won the toss and elected to bat
Result: Jamaica Tallawahs won by 6 wickets.
Points: Jamaica Tallawahs 2, Zouks 0
Man of the Match: Andre Russell (Jamaica Tallawahs)