BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC):
A new format will herald in the start of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) first-class season, which bowls off across the region today.
In a departure from what has obtained in recent years, the season will now com-bine the Regional Four-Day Championship and the Super50 tournament, which will see 48 matches being played in a three-month campaign.
Teams will battle for the Clive Lloyd Trophy in the limited-overs format and chase the Headley/Weekes Trophy in the longer version.
Jamaica are defending champions in both competitions, having won the four-day title for an unprecedented fifth time last year and the limited-overs title when they were last played in 2011.
The Super50 will raise the curtain on the new season, with Barbados hosting the Jamaicans at Kensington Oval in Barbados, Leeward Islands meeting Guyana at the Vivian Richards Cricket Ground in Antigua, and Windward Islands squaring off with Combined Campuses and Colleges at the Beausejour Cricket Ground in St Lucia.
Perhaps the feature match of the round will be when Jamaica do battle against Barbados, who shared the title with Leeward Islands three years ago.
Barbados, who have struggled in regional competitions in recent years, will be hoping to make a strong start. Coach Henderson Springer, a former national off-spinner, said the players' approach to the new format would be crucial to their success.
"This season, we will have to schedule our preparation to suit both forms of the game and the approach of the players will be very important," he pointed out.
"It was different when I played because most of the players were capable of playing both forms, now you can change up to three players."
The Leewards, meanwhile, will be seeking to regain their balance after a rocky time in all versions of the game over the last few years. Once a powerhouse in regional cricket, the team has now found itself languishing badly, but new manager/assistant coach, Ridley Jacobs, predicted a turnaround this year.
"You will see a different Leewards team this season," the former Leewards captain and Test wicketkeeper/batsman said. "We will be showing a different attitude, a different mindset, a difference in terms of how we carry ourselves and how we approach the game.
"Leewards have been competitive in regional cricket and we have won titles and been in finals, so it's sad to see some of what has happened in recent years, but now we are going to raise our standards."
Guyana, whose cricket has been embroiled in controversy domestically, will be hoping to improve their fortunes and build on their success in last month's Caribbean Twenty20 where they finished as losing finalists.
Esaun Crandon backed his team's chances, especially in the limited-overs competition.
"In the Super50 we stand a much better chance as some of the players enjoy that format of the game," said Crandon, a former player. "We also have a well-balanced team. All we have to do is go out there, work to our game plan, adapt to the conditions as quickly as possible, then I don't see why we cannot come out victorious in the end."