Medium-pacer Hardus Viljoen bagged career-best Hero Caribbean Premier League figures of three wickets for 14 runs to guide the St Lucia Zouks to a crucial 20-run win over the St Kitts Nevis Patriots at the Daren Sammy Stadium in Gros Islet, St Lucia, on Tuesday night.
Viljoen's return proved critical as the Zouks, defending 165-6, restricted the Patriots to 145-9 although they had an off-colour night on the field in which they dropped several catches but still survived this deficiency in their game.
The result once again threw the bottom half of the table into a tailspin as the Zouks jumped up to fourth spot with five points, leapfrogging the Barbados Tridents and Jamaica Talawahs, both on fours points each. The Patriots remained in third spot with eight points, just behind second-placed Trinbago Knight Riders (9 pts). More importantly, however, the Patriots now have one round-robin match left against the Barbados Tridents and could struggle to make the playoffs if they do not win it.
Unbeaten leaders Guyana Amazon Warriors have already qualified for the playoffs with a maximum 12 points from their six matches. The Zouks, however, will be seeking to stop the leaders in their matchup on Wednesday at the same venue as they chase a playoff spot.
But if they do get into the playoffs, the Zouks will have Viljoen to thank for showing them the way forward. Needing an early breakthrough against the Patriots, who have several big hitters in their line-up, Viljoen did got the early wicket of opener Evin Lewis in just the fourth over.
Viljoen produced a well-lined delivery outside off stump and Lewis went for his favourite pull shot but top-edged the delivery to deep square leg where Christopher Barnwell took an easy catch as the Patriots fell to 28-1.
Left-arm orthodox spinner Jeavor Royal then upped the pressure by bowling the equally dangerous Devon Thomas for just nine runs in the next over as the visitors slumped to 31-2.
Laurie Evans and Mohammed Hafeez engineered a recovery of sorts with a 49-run partnership before medium pacer Kesrick Williams entered the fray in the 13th over. He was immediately into his task of taking wickets for skipper Daren Sammy by getting Evans' scalp for 28 with his very first ball - a cleverly hidden slower one -, which the batsman put straight back at him for a caught and bowled opportunity. Five balls later, Williams trapped Fabian Allen (1), who was promoted up the order, plumb in front his wicket and the Patriots were tottering at 89-4.
Skipper Carlos Brathwaite was in next but he didn't last long. He was out in the next over off legbreak specialist Fawad Ahmed for just two, after he miscued a slog shot to a googly, skied it and was well caught by a diving substitute fielder Kavem Hodge charging in from midwicket.
Viljoen then bowled Shamarh Brooks (7) off his pad as the visitors were in even deeper trouble at 103 for six. And when Ahmed produced a caught and bowled effort to remove Hafeez in the 16th over for a top score of 29, it was only a matter of time before the fat lady sung in the Zouks' favour.
Earlier, Zouks opener Andre Fletcher's 23-ball 36 and skipper Sammy's 19-ball 30 had taken the home side to what they felt was a defendable total.
Fletcher hit four fours and two sixes while Sammy hit three boundaries and a maximum in his knock. Christopher Barnwell (27) and Colin Ingram (21) also made useful contributions to the total.
Hafeez bagged three wickets for 22 runs while Alzarri Joseph got two for 20 for the Patriots
ST LUCIA ZOUKS 165-6 (20) (Andre Fletcher 36, Darren Sammy 30, Christopher Barnwell 27, Mohammad Hafeez 3/22, Alzarri Joseph 2/20) v ST KITTS NEVIS PATRIOTS 145-9 (20) (Mohammad Hafeez 29, Laurie Evans 28, Hardus Viljoen 3/14, Kesrick Williams 3/48)
Result: ST LUCIA ZOUKS WON BY 20 RUNS
Man-of-thew-match: Hardus Viljoen (SLZ)