PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad- Windward Islands Volcanoes will launch the defence of their Regional Super50 title when they clash with a star-studded Trinidad and Tobago Red Force, in the tournament curtain-raiser at Queen’s Park Oval tomorrow.
On Thursday the Barbados Pride will lock horns with the Leeward Islands Hurricanes at Kensington Oval in their first game of the tournament.
Despite the low-keyed build-up, the October 3-28 championship holds special significance for players as they will be bidding to impress ahead of next year’s ICC 50-overs World Cup in England.
As such, Red Force will boast the likes of Dwayne and Darren Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Sunil Narine and Lendl Simmons, all of whom have been out of West Indies colours for extended periods and for varying reasons.
Their return adds flavour and anticipation to the tournament and Red Force skipper Denesh Ramdin said their presence also made the 11-time champions formidable opponents.
“Having the likes of the Bravos, Pollard, Narine, Simmons – a very well-experienced unit – it means less work for me in managing these guys. They know what they’re about and it’s about executing team plans,” the former Test captain explained.
“I don’t have any pressure, it’s going to be easy for me having those quality players in my line-up. They know what they have to do. On and off the field they are professionals so it’s good to have them back in the line-up and they’re going to be exciting to work with throughout the tournament.”
Red Force also boast attacking West Indies opener Evin Lewis in their ranks along with pinch-hitter Nicholas Pooran, Jason Mohammed, Rayad Emrit and veteran seamer Ravi Rampaul.
As expected, the hosts stand out in Group A which also comprises Guyana Jaguars, West Indies B and Canada, and Ramdin agreed with Red Force being labelled favourites even though he made it clear they would not underestimate any team.
“When you look at the calibre of players that we have … we’ll have to take that label [of favourites] and perform on the field and continue to work hard as a team,” he stressed.
“It’s going to be exciting. We’re not going to take anyone lightly. We were disappointed last year we didn’t get past the group stages but hopefully this year we play each game as it comes, not get ahead of ourselves and play some proper, good cricket.
“We first want to get to that stage where we can qualify and get to play the semis and then go on from there.”
Ramdin also pointed out that playing their preliminary matches at home was also a huge boost for his side.
“It’s always good to play your first few matches at home so you can get that momentum, as well as knowing the conditions and [having] your crowd come out and support.”
Volcanoes, meanwhile, despite stunning Barbados Pride in last year’s final to win their fourth title, will understandably start Wednesday’s contest as underdogs.
But captain Shane Shillingford said Volcanoes possessed a strong squad with good, young players, and would not be intimidated by the likes of Red Force or Jaguars.
“In general we’re just going to play cricket; we don’t play names. Everybody starting at one point to get to where they are, so we’re just going to play cricket and look out for good things to come,” the former West Indies off-spinner noted.
“I think we have a very good all-round team, especially with the youngsters. It’s always good to see the youngsters performing and even out-performing the senior guys so that’s always a plus in our team. Once you win a tournament like that, it’s a good thing for your team.”
Shillingford will look to young players like all-rounder Kavem Hodge and batsmen Alick Athanaze and Roland Cato, to repeat their performances from the last tournament, and will also have the experience of Devon Smith, Kirk Edwards and Kesrick Williams, all of whom have West Indies experience.
Last season, Volcanoes were an unfancied side, especially after losing their first three matches of the competition.
However, they astonishingly won their next five, brushed aside Jaguars in the semi-finals before clinching the final.
Shillingford said as a result, Volcanoes would be under more pressure than usual this season to live up to expectations.
“There is always additional pressure when you’ve always got to keep the reputation up after winning the championship so all that comes with the game,” he said.
“When you go in expecting to win and when you win, you’re expected to match the level of confidence with the pressure.”
In the other match of the double-header, Canada clash with West Indies B at the Brian Lara Stadium.
Group B features the likes of Pride, Hurricanes, Jamaica Scorpions, United States and Combined Campuses and Colleges.
RED FORCE – Denesh Ramdin (captain), Evin Lewis, Kyle Hope, Darren Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo, Nicholas Pooran, Sunil Narine, Khary Pierre,
Imran Khan, Ravi Rampaul,
Lendl Simmons, Rayad Emrit.
VOLCANOES – Shane Shillingford (captain), Delorn Johnson,
Devon Smith, Roland Cato,
Tyrone Theophile, Kavem Hodge, Larry Edward, Obed McCoy,
Alick Athanaze, Ryan John,
Kyle Mayers, Kesrick Williams,
Denis Smith, Kirk Edwards.