Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
Nearly 700 days after the curtain of Covid-19 brought a premature end to the 2019-20 season, the West Indies four-day Championship returns on February 9, marking the resumption of regional first-class cricket in the Caribbean.
Cricket West Indies (CWI) suspended the 2019-20 edition after the eighth of ten rounds of fixtures, crowning Barbados champions when it became clear that it would not be possible to complete the season. The 2020-21 edition was deemed logistically impossible, so its return on Wednesday after a hiatus of nearly two years is a significant moment.
Johnny Grave, CWI's chief executive, said that six months of "detailed planning" had made the competition possible. "We know the teams have been putting in hours of hard work in the nets, patiently waiting for the matches to be confirmed and are looking forward to being back on the field and entertaining their fans," he said.
The first two rounds of the tournament are set to be played exclusively in Barbados and Trinidad. The final three rounds will follow in May as the teams play each other once.
Some young players in the Caribbean have been involved in 'best vs best' games before Test series or part of enlarged Test squads but have had limited opportunities to improve in a competitive environment. "This competition plays a critical role in our player-development pathway," Jimmy Adams, CWI's director of cricket, said. "After almost two years, we are delighted to have our regional players back playing competitively in this format."
Much of the intrigue around the first two rounds surrounds selection for March's Test series against England. Desmond Haynes, the new lead selector, showed when recalling Kemar Roach for the ongoing ODI series in India that he is willing to make bold calls and impose his mark on the national team, and he will keep a close eye on early-season performances.
Kraigg Brathwaite, the Test captain, will lead Barbados in their title defence, though they have several players missing due to the white-ball tour of India. Shane Dowrich, who has been succeeded by Joshua Da Silva as West Indies' wicketkeeper, returns to professional cricket after a 14-month absence while Chemar Holder and Jomel Warrican will be in the conversation for selection ahead of the England series.
Their first fixture is against the Leeward Islands at Kensington Oval, who are captained by Anguilla's Jahmar Hamilton. Rahkeem Cornwall is their key bowler, looking to press his case for the England series, while Kieran Powell could be in the frame after winning a recall for the home Tests against South Africa and Pakistan last year.
Guyana - rebranded as the Harpy Eagles after several years as the Jaguars - were champions for five seasons in a row between 2014-15 and 2018-19, and look like a strong side on paper. In Gudakesh Motie and Veerasammy Permaul, they have two reliable left-arm spinners, while seamers Nial Smith and Keemo Paul have shown promise.
With the bat, there is always intrigue around the progress of Tagenarine Chanderpaul - Shivnarine's son - but the involvement of Shimron Hetmyer is particularly notable. Hetmyer's fitness has been a major talking point this year after he missed out on limited-overs selection, but Haynes clarified recently: "Hetmyer is in our plans - there is no question about it."
He has been named in the squad after recovering from illness, and opted to play for Guyana rather than joining Quetta Gladiators in the PSL; fitness-depending, he could come into contention for the England series.
Trinidad and Tobago will host Jamaica at the Brian Lara Academy ground in Tarouba, with Jayden Seales - the 20-year-old fast bowler who has already played four Tests - set to play his first red-ball game for them. Jeremy Solozano, who played against Sri Lanka in November, has recovered from the concussion he suffered on debut, while Da Silva and Shannon Gabriel are also involved.