As the 2014 local domestic cricket season opens tomorrow, the frame of mind among players is sure to vary, based on the fixtures.
Traditionally, competition in the longer version of the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) season takes the spotlight in all divisions at the beginning, but it will be different this time in relation to the top flight.
For example, the Sagicor General Twenty20 tournament, now in its seventh season, signals the start for the major teams, which feature in the Elite and First divisions.
There will be mixed feelings on the matter against the background of punishing schedules since the advent of the Sagicor General T20 tournament to add to the long-standing Sagicor General Super Cup (50-over) championship.
It has not always been easy to make the adjustment from a three-day match to a T20 or even one-day when the competitions are played simultaneously.
This season, however, the Sagicor General T20 tournament will be played by itself, though not for the first time, and runs until June 1, with the Elite and First division three-day championships beginning on June 7.
Last year, competition in the Elite and First divisions began on May 4 and finished late September, while the T20 started May 19 and concluded October 13.
While it would appear to be strange with the T20 tournament beginning before the three-day competitions, one only has to go back to 2012 when the T20 was also played by itself, though running from October 20 to December 9, after the Elite and First divisions had started May 5 and ended September 9.
Tomorrow also signals the start of the Intermediate, Second and Schools’ divisions.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is likely to come for teams which have to balance their selections for the T20 and other divisions.
The fixtures for the T20 tournament show that matches will be played every Saturday and Sunday. There are 18 teams divided into three zones, hence giving each side five matches in the preliminaries before going into the knockouts.
Last season, there were 17 teams – nine in Zone “A” and eight in Zone “B”. It meant that those in Zone “A” played as many as eight preliminary matches, while those in Zone “B” got seven with matches played only on Sundays before the quarter-finalists were determined.
While matches generally in all of the divisions apart from the Elite and First are played on Saturdays only, balancing selections from the start and maintaining them will now be fairly interesting for the T20 tournament.
Some teams are likely to give preference in coming up with the best possible XI to the T20 tournament, which has more financial benefits than in the lower divisions. Yet, a player might start a lower division division match and still also feature in a T20 the next day. Or the focus could be entirely on the T20, which would then rule that player out of lower division competition until the T20 tournament is completed.
With the Caribbean Premier League going into its second season in a couple months, at least those players who have been contracted will have
a chance to get in shape.
In relation to the Elite division (formerly First division and rebranded from the 2012 season), CounterPoint Wanderers must be excited about
their return to the major league after they were demoted following the 2010 season.
While it has been argued that there is no big difference between the standard of play in the Elite and First divisions, there will always be a desire to compete at the highest level. It is to their credit that during their period of demotion, Wanderers were still able to maintain the likes of Barbados and West Indies players Kirk Edwards, Kraigg Brathwaite and Jason Holder in their team even though a couple of them, for various reasons, were unable to play as often as the club would have wanted.
Foundation School, the newcomers to Division 1, will also be bubbling to play among the teams in the T20 and Super Cup for the first time after winning the Intermediate division. It is just reward after they captured the Schools’ Under-19 limited overs competition for the last two seasons and also boasted of silverware in the 2013 Goddard Enterprises Schools’ division.
Yet, Foundation must be wary of the fact that it will be a big challenge. Inevitably, as the case is with school teams each season, some of the top players would have left school and a rebuilding process has to start.
Two seasons ago, another school team, The Lodge, also competed in the T20 and Super Cup tournaments and found the going very tough. In fact, Lodge failed to earn a point in the T20 and managed just four points in the Super Cup by way of two no-decisions due to rain.
In the T20, Foundation are in Zone “B” along with last year’s losing finalists and one of the most dominant teams, CGI Maple, who will be their first opponents on home turf at Church Hill; Carlton, who were demoted from the Elite division, LIME, BRC BCL and BDFSP.
In Zone “A” are title holders Sagicor Life UWI, Republic Bank St. Catherine, Super Centre Spartan, Premix & Precast Yorkshire, Police and Wildey Sports Club (formerly Banks Wildey).
Zone “C” comprises ESA Field Pickwick, Ince Transport MTW, Wanderers, Guardian General Barbados Youth, YMPC and ICBL Empire.
Also with much interest tomorrow is the confirmation of key players switching clubs.
When the Sagicor General T20 competition started in 2008, it was felt in several quarters that it would ignite spectator interest in a big way. Though that has not been the case, the spread of the T20 game across the world makes it an important part of the domestic calendar.
There is still a need for players to understand some of the finer points of the T20 game and one can only hope that the positives will far outweigh the negatives, especially in relation to those who believe that bad habits can be derived among Under-19 players.
(Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) championship for over three decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Holder is also the host of the cricket Talk Show, Mid Wicket, on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation 100.7 FM on Tuesday nights.)