Barbados favored again

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – Barbados is favored to defend its regional title as the 2005 Carib Beer cricket tournament starts Friday with three matches around the Caribbean.

Barbados and Jamaica, both weakened by the loss of four players each to West Indies duty, host the Windward and Leeward Islands, respectively. Trinidad hosts Guyana in the other opening round match.

Led by former Test batsman Sherwin Campbell, 34, Barbados boasts a powerful lineup despite missing fast bowlers Ian Bradshaw and Pedro Collins.

‘Most of the players in our squad have been around the team or playing at this level over the last two years, so we still expect to do well,’ Campbell said Thursday.

Hard-hitting left-hander Martin Nurse, although only 19, has already made a positive impression in his young regional career and could be one of the stars as the competition starts with home-and-away matches between the six territories over the next 10 weeks.

Fast bowler Corey Collymore, left out of the team West Indies team traveling in Australia, will look forward to impress regional selectors, while Jason Bennett and Ryan Nurse are looked upon to replace Bradshaw and Collins. The Windward Islands rely on their experienced former West Indies duo of captain Rawl Lewis and Junior Murray. The batting remains brittle as they look to Devon Smith, the Grenadian opener, for the bulk of their runs. The bowling appears better served with Deighton Butler, a left-arm pacer invited to a 25-man camp in December by the West Indies selectors.

The Jamaicans, last year finalists, miss West Indies batting stars Chris Gayle, Wavell Hinds, Marlon Samuels and Xavier Marshall. They have banked on youth for their opening fixture against the Leewards, with fast bowler Daren Powell the oldest member of the team at just 26.

Tamar Lambert is the first-time captain in the absence of injured Gareth Breese.

Leeward Islands captain, Sylvester Joseph, is confident in his side, which has lost no players to the West Indies team.

‘This is the first time for the past couple years that we have all our top players together for the start of the season and this is really a plus for the Leeward Islands,’ he said.

Joseph, a right-hander who made his Test debut last year, is one of seven players with international experience in the lineup. Fellow batsmen Stuart Williams and Runako Morton, seasoned wicket-keeper Ridley Jacobs, all-rounder Omari Banks and fast bowlers Kerry Jeremy and Adam Sanford, add depth to the Leeward Islands.

Trinidad, buoyed by their one-day championship in October, seek to end 19 years of futility in the first-class arena this season under the captaincy of Daren Ganga.

West Indies captain Brian Lara will miss the first half of the season while leading the team in Australia. Lara and international players Dwayne Bravo and Mervyn Dillon also missed October’s charge to the one-day crown.