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Much to prove

Barbados captain Dwayne Smith

Barbados have flattered only to deceive in international cricket’s shortest form of the game, and on Monday when they come up against the Leeward Islands in their first match of the West Indies Cricket Board’s Caribbean Twenty20 Tournament, they will be seeking to turn around their disappointing fortunes of the past seven years.

Barbados enter the competition that runs from January 6 to 20 in Trinidad and Tobago and St. Lucia having never won a regional Twenty20 tournament, frequently under-performing and suffering as a result of questionable selection decisions.

Since the introduction of the format in the Caribbean, only two teams have won regional Twenty20 competitions. Guyana won the inaugural Stanford 20/20 Tournament in 2006 and Trinidad and Tobago won the 2007/2008 version. Following the sad demise of billionaire tournament financier Allen Stanford, the WICB’s tournament has been won by Guyana in 2010 while Trinidad and Tobago have won the title in 2010/2011 and 2011/2012.

Much will depend on Barbados captain and much-travelled Twenty20 specialist Dwayne Smith, as well as middle-order batsman Jonathan Carter, in addition to the West Indies pace duo of Fidel Edwards and Tino Best.

Indeed, as Smith attested prior to departing for Trinidad and Tobago this week, success for Barbados will be based on team effort and a commitment to perform at an optimum with bat, ball and in the field.

Smith has been Barbados’ most productive batsman in the format with 382 runs in 17 matches, a best score of 86 and at the excellent strike rate of 140.95. The highly talented Carter is Barbados’ second most productive player in Twenty20 cricket with 381 runs in 18 matches with a top score of 61. However, the frenetic pace and the requirements of the format will necessitate him improving on a rather pedestrian strike rate of 96.

Former captain Ryan Hinds can be considered fortunate to be in the Barbados team in this format, having been quite disappointing with the bat, even if productive with the ball.

A shadow of the cricketer who once promised so much and looked every part an international cricketer on his first tour with the senior regional side to Sharjah in 2002, Hinds’ slow batting has previously put a damper on Barbados’ middle-order progress. In 19 matches, he has plodded his way to 179 runs with a highest score of 45 and at the geriatric strike rate for Twenty20 cricket of 90.40.

A good tournament could enhance the prospects of talented bowling all-rounder Carlos Brathwaite. Already given a taste of international Twenty20 cricket, Brathwaite has not been looked at by regional selectors after appearing in a solitary One-Day International and Twenty20 in Bangladesh in 2011. Last year he was injured in the regional Twnety20 competition and will be hoping for an injury-free tournament to once again press his claims for higher duty.

The player who has set tongues wagging is the pugnacious left-hander Justin Brathwaite whose clean, powerful hitting has catapulted him into the national spotlight. He is Barbados’ X-Factor and could spring some surprises on regional bowlers encountering him for the first time.

On the bowling front the usual suspects of Ashley Nurse, Sulieman Benn, Tino Best and Fidel Edwards will be expected to spearhead the spin and pace attack respectively. The off-spinner Nurse is Barbados’ most successful bowler in the format with 25 wickets in 17 matches at an economy rate of 6.23, while the left-hand orthodox spin of Benn has accounted for 20 wickets in 19 matches at an economy rate of 5.22.

Though frequently confronted with docile tracks in the Caribbean, Best and Edwards’ output in Twenty20 cricket is eye-opening and could be Barbados’ trump card. Both have an economy rate under six with Best’s 5.40 coming after 12 wickets in 13 matches and Edwards’ 5.45 representing seven wickets in seven matches. Hinds has also bowled well in this format taking 20 wickets in 19 matches and at the commendable strike rate of 6.03.

For all the ability which the Barbados side possess, excellent fielding discipline will be paramount to advancing. Players and management perhaps still have nightmares over Police’s all-rounder Larry Babb’s almost criminal blunder on the boundary against Guyana in the 2010 tournament that basically hijacked Barbados’ victory bid.

If the team wanted an opponent on whom they could iron out any last minute problems, Barbados have been fortunate to get the Leeward Islands as their first match.

The Leeward Islands have gone from bad to worse over the past years, being manhandled by all and sundry in all three formats of the game. There has been understandable optimism over the return of former West Indies batsman Sylvester Joseph to their line-up and together with his vice-captain – exciting West Indies opening batsman Kieran Powell – Joseph will carry the expectations of the islands on his capable shoulders. †

Much has been made of the potential of Derbyshire batsman Chesney Hughes. But the 21-year-old Anguillan is yet to translate the promise he has shown on the English county circuit into consistent performances in regional cricket.

The forgotten West Indies fast-bowler Gavin Tonge and discarded Windies’ leg-spinner Anthony Martin are expected to lead the Leewards’ bowling efforts.

With the advent of franchise Twenty20 cricket not too far off in the horizon, both teams have much to prove. (WG)

Barbados: Dwayne Smith (captain), Shamarh Brooks (vice-captain), Sulieman Benn, Tino Best, Carlos Brathwaite, Justin Brathwaite, Jonathan Carter, Rolston Chase, Shane Dowrich, Fidel Edwards, Ryan Hinds, Kyle Mayers, Ashley Nurse, Javon Searles.

Leeward Islands: Sylvester Joseph (captain), Kieran Powell (vice-captain), Justin Athanaze, Shane Burton, Rahkeem Cornwall, Jahmar Hamilton, Chesney Hughes, Javia Liburd, Anthony Martin, Lyndel Richardson, Garvin Tonge, Devon Thomas, Kelbert Walters, Tonito Willett.†

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