In Brian Lara's absence, the onus will be on Daren Ganga © Getty Images
Trinidad & Tobago, the Carib Beer champions, will need their batsmen to stand counted if they are to win the Challenge Shield semi-final against the Windward Islands and take their first step towards completing the elusive regional cricket double.
The buoyant T&T squad are getting back into the ring with a dual purpose in mind - to capture the Carib Beer Challenge, and avenge a humiliating 91-run loss at home to the same opposition earlier this year. However, they will have to manage the feat without Brian Lara when they take the field today at Guaracara Park at Pointe-a-Pierre.
Omar Khan, the team manager, believes once T&T's batsmen can post a decent total first up, his players will overcome today's opponents - the only team to complete an outright victory over T&T in a four-day match this season - and they will be well on their way to a place in the final. T&T, chasing 179 for victory and in the absence of Lara, were skittled out for just 88 at Shaw Park, Tobago, their lowest-ever score against the Windwards, in January.
According to Khan, the key to the team performance if the national side are to triumph is the same cohesion and team spirit that helped them secure their first regional four-day cricket title in more than two decades. "The spirit of the team is very high," Khan said yesterday prior to a training session at the match venue. "Today, we had a team building session, to re-kindle that kind of team spirit when we won the Carib Beer Cup. This has been a major factor of our success, with the team gelling together and supporting each other."
But Khan pointed out that in the absence of Lara, the other batsmen need to step in and play to their potential to produce matchwinning innings, expressing confidence that the bowling was potent enough to get the required wickets. "Without Brian Lara," Khan explained, "the other batsmen have to take to the fore and put the runs on the board. Once there is a good score on the board the bowlers will have to do their job. The bowlers have done it for us all season."
The Windwards are also placing strong emphasis on boosting their batting, with first-innings points so crucial in such a semi-final, and Lockhart Sebastian, the manager, is hoping his team can dismiss T&T cheaply. "Obviously, the first innings [points] will be very important if the game is drawn, so we have to look to bat as long as we possibly can in the first innings, wherever we bat [first or second]," Sebastian said following his team's training session last evening. " ... We're confident, and we're into semifinals," he added. "If you lose, you go home. We still know they are at home, and they are the stronger team. Obviously we are here to play cricket. On the day, if we play good cricket, we could come and get a victory."
Sebastian stated that the Windwards' victory over T&T was not likely to give them any form of psychological advantage, but having beaten their hosts before, he felt sure they can do it again. "It's a new game. Who plays better in the next four days, will win the match," he said.
That view was also shared by Khan, who described January's loss as a one-off. "That has been the past. We have bounced back from them. As I said before, it was a one-off game. We have stressed to the team the importance of showing that we are worthy champions and we are going to play like champions tomorrow."
Daren Ganga (capt), Samuel Badree, Adrian Barath, Dwayne Bravo, Mervyn Dillon, Rayad Emrit, Sherwin Ganga, Amit Jaggernauth, Dave Mohammed, Gibran Mohammed, Richard Kelly, Jason Mohammed, Denesh Ramdin, Lendl Simmons.
Windward Islands
Rawl Lewis (capt), Miles Bascombe, Romel Currency, Craig Emmanuel, Dennis George, Alvin La Feuille, Junior Murray, Jean Paul, Kenroy Peters, Darren Sammy, Liam Sebastien, Devon Smith.