The eighth edition of the Caribbean Premier League is all set to begin on 18 August, with all games scheduled to be played in Trinidad and Tobago. One of the biggest underachievers in CPL so far, St Lucia Zouks begin their campaign against Jamaica Tallawahs in the second game of the season. Having finished fifth in the past couple of seasons, the Darren Sammy-led side will look to qualify for the playoffs for the first time.

St Lucia Zouks signed four players; Rilee Rossouw, Anrich Nortje, Noor Ahmad and Kimani Melius; Rossouw and Nortje will not be available for the season due to traveling issues. Among the retained players, Colin Ingram will be unavailable for the same issue. New Zealand bowling all-rounder Scott Kuggeleijn, Afghan batsman Najibullah Zadran and Australian domestic star Jonathan Wells have been named as the replacements for the three Proteas players.

Chris gayle who was expected to join the Zouks for the upcoming season has pulled out citing personal reasons. Noor Ahmed, Afghanistan’s U-19 star will also miss the season due to visa issues. Another Afghan chinaman bowler Zahir Khan will join as the replacement. Mohammad Nabi and Chemar Holder are among the big names from the seven drafted players.

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Retained: Daren Sammy, Colin Ingram (Overseas) (Unavailable), Andre Fletcher, Kesrick Williams, Obed McCoy, Rahkeem Cornwall, Kavem Hodge.

Signed: Rilee Rossouw (Overseas) (Unavailable), Anrich Nortje (Overseas) (Unavailable), Noor Ahmad (Overseas) (Unavailable), Kimani Melius.

Drafted: Mohammad Nabi (Overseas), Chemar Holder, Mark Deyal, Leniko Boucher, Javelle Glen, Saad Bin Zafar (ICC Americas pick).

Replacements: Scott Kuggeleijn (Overseas), Najibullah Zadran (Overseas), Jonathan Wells (Overseas), Zahir Khan (Overseas)

Strength and Weakness:

St Lucia Zouks’ batting holds a formidable look, despite the absence of T20 stalwarts like Ingram and Rossouw. Rahkeem Cornwall and Andre Fletcher form a fearsome opening pair, with both known for their big hit. Among batsmen who batted in a minimum of 5 innings, Cornwall had the highest strike rate (190.98) last season.

Jonathan Wells, who plays for Adelaide Strikers in BBL, can be slotted at 3, given his style of play. He can both play the role of an anchor as well as take advantage of a good start. Coming off a very good BBL season, Wells’ inclusion might prove to be a game changer for the Zouks.

The Afghan duo of Najibullah Zadran and Mahammad Nabi are well known for their striking abilities in T20 cricket. These two along with two-time World Cup-winning skipper Sammy are proven finishers in T20s. Kavem Hodge and Mark Deyal are quality middle order options who can be used to fill the number four slot or as floaters. However the lack of quality and experienced backups in the batting department might hurt the team in case of injuries.

The fast bowling department lies in hands of Chemar Holder, Obed McCoy and Kesrick Williams, along with skipper Darren Sammy. Kiwi pacer Scott Kuggeleijn is a proven T20 campaigner and a quality backup. The pace department holds a decent look overall, with a perfect blend of youth and experience.

With Noor Ahmad, the chinaman bowler from Afghanistan, getting Zahir Khan, the side will have a relatively more experienced spinner. Zahir, the chinaman bowler will be a like to like replacement. Nabi and Cornwall are the other main spinners in the squad. Kavem Hodge with his left arm spin adds variety. Saad Bin Zafar is a quality backup along with Mark Deyal. However, the absence of an experienced leg spinner might turn out to be a drawback for the Zouks.

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Probable First Choice XI:

Rahkeem Cornwall, Andre Fletcher (wk), Jonathan Wells, Kavem Hodge, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Darren Sammy (c), Chemar Holder, Kesrick Williams, Obed McCoy, Zahir Khan

Tournament Prediction:

While the squad holds a decent look, the backups lack exposure at this level. If they perform up to their potential, a top 4 finish can be likely, but on paper, Zouks still lag a bit as compared to other teams.