NEW FIRST-CLASS SEASON OPENS TOMORROW

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Volcanoes look to end winless streak against champs Jaguars, Keen tussle expected between Pride and Hurricanes

Regional players switch from white balls and coloured uniforms to red balls and white flannels tomorrow with two day/night matches in the first round of the West Indies Championship.

A keen battle is expected when Windward Islands Volcanoes host four-time defending champions Guyana Jaguars at the Daren Sammy Cricket Ground and last season’s runners-up Barbados Pride face Leeward Islands at the Three Ws Oval. The other two regional teams – Trinidad & Tobago Red Force and Jamaica Scorpions – have had their first round match postponed until March.

The Championship carries extra significance this year, as almost half of the matches are due to be completed prior to the first Test between WINDIES and England which starts on January 23 at Kensington Oval in Barbados – and the remainder will be played simultaneously with the Tour.

Against this backdrop, many of the players will be looking to stake strong claims for consideration for a place in the WINDIES side for the three-Test International Home Series against Joe Root’s side.

Windward Islands Volcanoes vs Guyana Jaguars in Gros-Islet, St. Lucia

The Jaguars could not have chosen a better opponent against whom to start the season.

The visitors have won all but three of their last eight contests against the Volcanoes in the Cricket West Indies Professional Cricket League era (2014-15 onwards) which should increase their level of confidence entering the opening round.

Jaguars captain Leon Johnson knows full well that the home team can spring a surprise, like they did when the two teams played to a heart-stopping tie at the back-end of last season.

On the opening match, Johnson said: “That’s all in the past. We have to play good solid cricket. One of the things we would have noticed is that there are missing their leading run scorer which would weaken their batting a little bit.

“But they are a solid team and always put up a good fight against us. With the conditions the way they are right now – with a bit of rain – and the pitch is always a bit spicy, we will not be taking them for granted.”

On how challenging it will be to repeat as champions: “It’s challenging at the start of every season. What we have done in the previous four seasons is in the past. It is about coming into this season and starting well. Our first three games are away from home and we have not had that challenge since the Professional Cricket League has started.

“I have told the guys that though we are not playing our first three games at home, we have played at the Daren Sammy Cricket Ground, the Vivian Richards Cricket Ground and Kensington Oval previous and we know what to expect, so it’s about adapting mentally more than anything. All of the teams will be gunning for us, so it is up to us to play well, and if later in the Championship we see the opportunity to win we will push for it – but it is about starting solidly, building a foundation and taking it from there.”

Last season, it was a mixed bag for the Volcanoes and they finished fifth in the table, due mainly to a number of young players coming into the squad and having to find their feet.

Star left-handed opener Devon Smith was the top batsman in the Championship with a record aggregate, but he will be missing from this match, due to personal reasons.

Kirk Edwards, the former Barbados Pride captain and WINDIES batsman, has been elevated to the position of captain and will be looking for the young players to step up this season.

On the young players, Edwards said: “At our training sessions, I have been hearing players keen on correcting some of the mistakes from last season which shows that they are learning and making notes mentally, so it’s about them going out and doing what they have to do. Sometimes when a team is a bit inexperienced that’s why you will get hot and cold performances at times and you make mistakes at key times and it can cost you a game.

“We played really well for a period of time and then there is a collapse – and that comes from inexperience. But I think we have a good team spirit and really work well together which is one of the positives. We have a lot of talent, so it is all about getting things to come together on the day to be successful.”

On the opening match: “It’s no secret that the Jaguars have been playing fantastic cricket over the last few seasons and they are a team which you can watch and learn something from them.

“They have a good unit and have been playing together for some time and are ably led by Leon Johnson. But cricket is played on the day and we will not worry too much that we have not beaten them for a long time. We will play bat and ball – and that’s what we are looking forward to doing.”

Squads:

VOLCANOES – Kirk Edwards (captain), Audy Alexander, Alick Athanaze, Roland Cato, Tarryck Gabriel, Kavem Hodge, Ryan John, Delorn Johnson, Ray Jordan, Shane Shillingford, Denis Smith, Tyron Theophile, Josh Thomas

JAGUARS – Leon Johnson (captain), Christopher Barnwell, Anthony Bramble, Tagenarine Chanderpaul, Trevon Griffith, Tevin Imlach, Keon Joseph, Gudakesh Motie, Veerasammy Permaul, Akshaya Persaud, Clinton Pestano, Romario Shepherd, Vishaul Singh

UMPIRES – Deighton Butler, Joel Wilson (Trinidad & Tobago)

MATCH REFEREE – Michael Ragoonath (Trinidad & Tobago)

RESERVE UMPIRE – Ericson Degallerie

Barbados Pride vs Leeward Islands Hurricanes in Cave Hill, Barbados

Pride and Hurricanes should be pretty familiar with each other, considering that they were part of the same group in the Super50 Cup.

Pride recovered from a shaky start last season to finish second behind the Jaguars and Hurricanes played steadily to end in third place, their highest finish in the PCL era.

The corresponding contest last season however, marked the low point for the Pride and the pinnacle for the Hurricanes, as the visitors won inside two days with a strong pace bowling performance for their first victory over the home team in the eight matches in the PCL era.

Hurricanes captain Devon Thomas said his side is accustomed to hard battles against the Pride and expects nothing different this time around. He feels playing the Super50 Cup matches in Barbados will help them to adapt quicker to the conditions.

On facing the Pride: “I think we have a good understanding about the conditions and what we can expect, although it’s a day/night match and we did not play a day/night game at the Three Ws Oval in the Super50 Cup.

“We had a good solid month of preparation following the Super50 Cup, so I think we are prepared and ready to go. The Pride play their cricket at a high level and with a lot of pride – but we always feel good when we play them, and we are again looking forward to playing against them in the Championship.”

On expectations for the season: “Last season, our bowlers gave us points. We did not get a lot of batting points and it was the bowlers that carried us through. This year, we want to concentrate on the batting a lot more and see if we can do a lot better than we did last season. I think the bowling will still be our trump card this season, but we need to do better with the bat. Our first innings will be crucial whenever we get the chance to bat.

“It’s a long season and we also need the camaraderie in the team. We need everybody to be helping and supporting the other person. If we can take a leaf out of the book of the Combined Campuses & Colleges, they do not have a lot of players that have played for WINDIES, but they had a good unit and worked hard together and were successful during the Super50 Cup.”

Pride captain Shamarh Brooks admitted his side faced a similar challenge to last season, where they were without a high number of regular members, due to WINDIES duty of one kind or another, and a number of inexperienced players were called upon to fill their places.

Brooks hopes they can find their feet quickly and that his side does not have to endure as uneven a start to the season as they did last time.

On the start of the season: “It seems we always start the season on the slower side and I think if we can overcome it this year, especially against the Hurricanes – a day/night match in which there are usually results and we can be on the winning side – and Jamaica Scorpions before Christmas, we can get into the back end of the season well.

“The guys have been putting in good work over the last few weeks and it is good that we have been playing our domestic, three-day club matches which is also a top-up for us. We had two practice games and had some decent performances, so all in all the preparation leading up to the Championship has been decent.”

On facing the Hurricanes: “I think that is something that would happen ‘once in a blue moon’ when you look at the history of our cricket. This day/night game will be very interesting, as it is being played at the Three Ws Oval, which is something which we must factor in to our plans.

People may say that we have home advantage, but it is not quite that way. We are not accustomed to playing ‘pink-ball matches’ at the Three Ws Oval. We had a few sessions under the lights there and it was not too bad, so hopefully we can go out there and give of our best.”

Batting all-rounder Nicholas Kirton is the only newcomer in the Pride squad which sees the previously injured pair of left-handed opener Anthony Alleyne and fellow batsman Aaron Jones return to the line-up.

Squads:

PRIDE (from) – Shamarh Brooks (captain), Anthony Alleyne, Jonathan Carter, Miguel Cummins, Justin Greaves, Keon Harding, Chemar Holder, Aaron Jones, Nicholas Kirton, Shayne Moseley, Shamar Springer, Tevyn Walcott, Hayden Walsh Jr

HURRICANES (from) ­– Devon Thomas (captain), Sheno Berridge, Keacy Carty, Rajendra Chandrika, Sheldon Cottrell, Daniel Doram, Montcin Hodge, Damion Jacobs, Alzarri Joseph, Jeremiah Louis, Orlando Peters, Akeem Saunders, Terance Warde,

UMPIRES – Jonathan Blades, Verdayne Smith (Jamaica)

MATCH REFEREE – Stephen Proverbs

RESERVE UMPIRE – Kevin Sisnett

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