EARLY CELEBRATION: Windward Islands players celebrate the fall of a Trinidad and Tobago B team wicket during their warm-up victory at the National Cricket Centre, Balmain, Couva on Tuesday. —Photo: Dave Persad

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UNDERDOG CHAMPS

Windwards look to make statement in Super50 opener

By Mark Pouchet

Windward Islands skipper Liam Sebastian says while they are the defending champions, they are still underdogs and their opponents will bear the pressure when the WICB NAGICO Super 50 Tournament bowls off at the Queen’s Park Oval today from 1:30 p.m.
Sebastian, who captained the team to the title last season, had replaced West Indies Test captain Darren Sammy (injured during the ODI series of the New Zealand tour) as the skipper for this year’s tournament. The Windwards will also not have leading wicket-taker in last year’s campaign, Shane Shillingford (suspended for an illegal bowling action) for today’s opening match against the Jamaicans.
Sebastian and the Windwards defeated the Jamaicans in last year’s semi-final on their way to lifting the crown.
But even as reigning champions, Sebastian says the other teams have it all to prove.
“ It doesn’t bring any pressure at all. The pressure is on the other teams because nobody looks at Windward Islands and gives us the respect that we deserve. So we are happy that we going into the competition as defending champions and that means that everybody has to come and beat us.”
Sebastian continued: “We know what we have to go and do. Everybody still expects the pressure to be on the Jamaicans because they look at the Windwards as the lesser team and if the Jamaican team loses it would be seen as an upset to them but the way we have been playing our cricket over the years, we relish the tag of being defending champions going into the tournament.”
Sebastian said this series presents new surroundings, new settings and his squad will have to renew its commitment.
Just as well.
Jamaica skipper David Bernard, without the services of big-hitting opener Chris Gayle, all-rounder Marlon Samuels, swing bowler Krishmar Santokie and leg-spinner Odean Brown (all through injuries), says his team is playing one team and one game at a time.
“We don’t take anybody lightly,” Bernard said when asked who is the biggest threat to Jamaica winning the tournament,” because everybody starts the tournament on equal grounds and everybody has a chance of winning. We won’t take anybody for granted. We’ll go out there and play our game and impose ourselves on the opposition with the aim of winning.”
Both Bernard and Sebastian see eye to eye on the importance of one thing.
“It is always important in any tournament to get off to a win, more importantly in one like this format where the competition is very short. If you lose the first game, you basically have to win the next two games to qualify so.... it gives you a heads-up into being on top of the group after the first day and you can dictate what you have to do and know what you have to do in the two other games,” Sebastian said.
Bernard reckoned: “Well you start to play catch-up cricket and that’s not where you want to be. It is very important that we win. Starting off with a win will do well to our confidence, but it all boils to how we go out there and execute what we can do.”
Bernard expects emerging batsmen like Horace Miller, Nkrumah Bonner, Jermaine Blackwood, André McCarthy, Kennar Lewis and John Campbell to step up and make a name for themselves, adding that the Jamaicans have had decent preparation.
Sebastian said that the absence of Sammy and Shillingford is beyond their control but, “we will try to use their absence as a positive and I would be very shocked if they (Sammy and Shillingford), both of them are not supporting us from wherever they are now.”
The pitch at the Oval presented a layer of green grass that could factor into the state of play today but both captains said their teams would adapt.
Squads:
Jamaica from: David Bernard Jr (Captain), Nikita Miller (Vice-captain), Andre Russell, Carlton Baugh Jr (wicket-keeper), Tamar Lambert, Andrew Richardson, Horace Miller, John Campbell, Jermaine Blackwood, Andre McCarthy, Sheldon Cottrell, Jerome Taylor, Nkrumah Bonner, Kenar Lewis.

Windward Islands from: Liam Sebastien (Captain), Andre Fletcher (Vice-captain), Johnson Charles (wicket-keeper), Tyron Theophille, Mervin Matthew, Craig Emmanuel, Garey Mathurin, Keddy Lesporis, Devon Smith, Dalton Polius, Delorn Johnson, Kenroy Peters, Romel Currency, Alston Bobb.
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