ST. JOHN’S, Antigua – A number of regular faces will be missing and several young players are set to make their first-class debuts, when the 2017-18 Digicel Regional 4-Day Championship opens tomorrow.

Several aspiring Windies players will be looking to lay early claim for higher recognition, as the battle for regional supremacy begins across the Caribbean.

The ongoing Windies Test Tour of Zimbabwe, and the home series between Windies “A” and Sri Lanka “A” means that all of the teams and fans will get a glimpse of the depth of strength of the game in the region.

Six of the teams will be under new leadership with Tyrone Theophile being the only completely new captain, having been put in charge of the Windward Islands Volcanoes.

Some of the teams are also under new direction with former West Indies fast bowler Winston Benjamin appointed to head the support staff of the Leeward Islands Hurricanes and hoping to transform the fortunes of the sub-regional side.

Jimmy Adams, the Cricket West Indies director of cricket, has termed this season an opportunity for players and Courtney Browne, the chairman of the CWI selection panel, has indicated that he and his crew will have a keen eye for consistent batsmen and tear-away fast bowlers to make it into the West Indies set-up.

Here’s how the teams match-up for the first round of matches. . .

Guyana Jaguars vs Jamaica Scorpions at the Guyana National Stadium in Providence, Guyana

Reigning three-time champions Jaguars could not have chosen a better opponent against whom to start the season.

The Jaguars have won the last six contests against the Scorpions in the Cricket West Indies Professional Cricket League era (2014-15 onwards) which should increase their level of confidence entering their opening match, but they may have to temper this excitement.

The hosts are without six players that have played key roles in their championship sweep over the last three seasons.

Ageless, veteran former West Indies batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul misses the first game due to personal commitments; leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo, left-handed opener Shimron Hetymer and left-arm, all-rounder Raymond Reifer are part of the Windies Test side in Zimbabwe; and left-hander Vishaul Singh and fast bowler Keon Joseph are on duty with Windies “A” against Sri Lanka.

Akshaya Persaud is the only uncapped player named in the Leon Johnson-led, 13-member squad, gaining the nod approval following his prolific scoring in the recently-concluded Jaguars Franchise League for West Demerara.

Johnson, Rajindra Chandrika and wicketkeeper/batsman Anthony Bramble are expected to be at the heart of the batting, vice-captain Veerasammy Permaul and fellow left-arm spinner Gudakesh Motie will be the main bowling weapons, with a number of senior regional sophomores filling other key roles.

On the opening match, Johnson said: “It’s good to start the season playing the Scorpions at the Guyana National Stadium, where we have had a good record over the last three seasons. It’s a new season and we have a number of inexperienced players, so we are not looking to get ahead of ourselves.”

On missing key players, he said: “The players in the squad with the experience will have to step up and do well, not only in this game, but throughout the competition, but I am looking at it in a positive way – this is an opportunity for the inexperienced players.

“These players have done pretty well over the last year or two years in our domestic franchise league, and they deserve a chance. They just need to grab their chance and put some pressure on the selectors and the same guys they are replacing.”

On the four-peat, Johnson said: “I can’t say. I can’t say. We would love it to be four out of four. Every team has zero points entering the competition and it depends on how well you play in the competition. Ask me that question again at the halfway stage.

“If we play well enough, it will be four out of four. If we don’t, but we tick certain boxes throughout the season, I think that would be satisfactory.”

Like their opponents, the Scorpions have been set back with the absence of a number of couple of regular players which will also be a chance to test the depth of their talent.

The biggest blow is the loss to injury of veteran left-arm spinner and last season’s captain, Nikita Miller. He was the leading bowler overall in the Championship for the last two seasons and his wicket-taking ability, especially in tough or tight situations will be missed.

Big-hitting wicketkeeper/batsman Chadwick Walton recently departed for the Bangladesh Premier League, while left-hander John Campbell, fellow batsman Andre McCarthy, as well as fast bowler rookie fast bowlers Reynard Leveridge and Oshane Thomas are part of Windies “A”.

The Scorpions hope however, that Guyana-born left-hander Assad Fudadin, a familiar face to the Jaguars, will help to add some backbone to their batting, and others like fellow Guyana-born opener Trevon Griffith, captain Paul Palmer and Brandon King can elevate their game to give more punch.

The bowling lacks experience with Jason Dawes the only recognisable face, but others like Derval Green and Dennis Bulli have had some regional exposure in recent seasons.

On the opening match, Palmer said: “We are a young group of players, but we are looking forward to the challenge. Going into the match, we have to do our best to execute all of our plans – and this is always important on any day of the game.

“Whichever side execute their plans the best, will come out victorious at the end of the match – and that’s what our focus is right now.”

On missing key players, he said: “There is no way to replace a player like Nikita Miller. He’s the kind of player that you cannot replace overnight because he has done a lot and bowled us to victory many times previously.

“We however, have to remain positive about what is before us and try not to focus his absence or the absence of other players. We still have a game to play and we will have to use our resources well to get the outcome we want.”

JAGUARS (from) – Leon Johnson (captain), Anthony Adams, Anthony Bramble, Tagenarine Chanderpaul, Rajendra Chandrika, Chanderpaul Hemraj, Gudakesh Motie, Keemo Paul, Veerasammy Permaul, Akshaya Persaud, Sherfane Rutherford, Romario Shepherd, Bashkar Yadram
SCORPIONS (from) – Paul Palmer (captain), Fabian Allen, Dennis Bulli, Jason Dawes, Assad Fudadin, Garth Garvey, Derval Green, Trevon Griffith, Paul Harrison, Brandon King, Romaine Morris, Damani Sewell, Keno Wallace
UMPIRES – Nigel Duguid, Danesh Ramdhanie (Trinidad & Tobago)
MATCH REFEREE – Colin Stuart
RESERVE UMPIRE – Nandkumar Shivsankar

Barbados Pride vs Trinidad & Tobago Red Force at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados

Two of Caribbean sport’s fiercest rivals begin the season under the lights with a point to prove.

The Pride have been the dominant side in the PCL era of this match-up, winning three of the six contests, with rain spoiling two others.

But the Red Force’s 130-run victory in the ninth round of last season at the same venue – a rare achievement for the T&T franchise – will stick in the craw of the hosts and this will be the motivation for both sides.

The Pride will want to prove that result was a fluke, achieved due to a lack of regular playing personnel, and the Red Force will want to prove that it was not, coming through the dint of hard work.

The Pride’s ranks have been decimated by the absence of practically their whole first squad, either playing for Windies in Zimbabwe or Windies “A” in Jamaica, but it’s something of which they have become accustomed in recent seasons.

On playing the opening match under lights, Pride captain Kevin Stoute said: “They beat us in this corresponding fixture last year. It was also a day/night game and they bowled very well, but the team bowling in the night-time always has an advantage in these games, and it just seemed that every time we had to start batting in that game, it was during the night which is very difficult with the pink ball doing so much.

“But that’s how sport goes, you win some and you lose some. We will have to adapt ourselves to the challenge of the pink ball. We tried to get a few practice games under the lights, but the weather did not allow it. What we do have working for us however, is that we have been playing club matches for the last three to four months on weekends, so we had valuable match practice.”

On missing key players, he said: “Most of those guys have been in and out over the last two seasons and we have still been able to come second, which I think it is a very good sign because it shows that we have a lot of depth when it comes to players who are capable of playing at the first-class level. We can’t dwell too much on it and must think about what we have to do as a team.”

The return of Denesh Ramdin to the position of captain adds substance to the Red Force batting which has suffered in recent seasons from the lack of experience.

Ramdin has not played a first-class match, since he played the last of his 74 Tests for Windies last January in Sydney, Australia. He will be at the helm of a squad packed with young, inexperienced players, as the Red Force look to make waves in a form of the game in which they have lacked consistent success in recent seasons.

Ramdin will depend on players like leg-spinner Imran Khan, vice-captain Marlon Richards, sophomore Barbados-born all-rounder Roshon Primus, as well as emerging left-handed batmen Amir Jangoo and Jeremy Solozano to excel in their roles for Red Force to be competitive.

On facing the Pride in the opening match, Ramdin said: “There is always big rivalry when we play them, but we are playing in their backyard which gives them an advantage, so it is important for us to play well. With a number of our senior players away, we have a number of young players, so it will be a good match-up.

“It was very good for a young team to come last season and beat Barbados. It is still fresh in the memories of the players that played that game. I am looking forward to helping them do it again, so hopefully we can execute in our batting, bowling and fielding. Our batting needs to step up throughout the Championship because I think our bowlers have been getting the wickets, but the batting has not been putting the scores on the board.”

On his return to the side, he said: “It feels a bit strange. I have not played a lot of four-day matches recently, so I have been working very hard in the nets, trying to leave alone a lot of balls, batting to time. Hopefully, I am able to spend a lot of time in the middle and it is a good season ahead and it is good to be around these young guys. They are working hard and want to do well.”

PRIDE (from) – Kevin Stoute (captain), Anthony Alleyne, Jonathan Carter, Shakeem Clarke, Justin Greaves, Aaron Jones, Shayne Moseley, Ashley Nurse, Mario Rampersaud, Shamar Springer, Hayden Walsh, Jomel Warrican, Kenroy Williams
RED FORCE (from) – Denesh Ramdin (captain), Bryan Charles, Akeal Cooper, Amir Jangoo, Imran Khan, Ewart Nicholson, Khary Pierre, Roshon Primus, Isaiah Rajah, Marlon Richards, Jeremy Solozano, Daniel St. Clair, Tion Webster
UMPIRES – Leslie Reifer Jr, Jacqueline Williams (Jamaica)
MATCH REFEREE – Stephen Proverbs
RESERVE UMPIRE – Kevin Sisnett

Windward Islands Volcanoes vs Leeward Islands Hurricanes at the National Cricket Stadium in St. George’s, Grenada

Volcanoes are another side that should relish their opening match, also starting against a side they have dominated in the PCL era.

Volcanoes have won five of the six matches the two sides have contested in the last three seasons and held the aces in the other match which ended in a rain-affected draw two seasons ago in the United States Virgin Island of St. Thomas.

The home team’s preparations for the season were badly disrupted, due to the passage of Hurricane Maria, which dealt a devastating blow to their training base in Dominica.

They subsequently moved to the Grenada capital to continue preparing and it will be intriguing to see how well the players have recovered from the natural disaster.

A string of good results in the first phase of the Championship, starting this weekend, could well help to lift the collective mood of the people in Roseau and the rest of the sub-region.

On how they managed to cope, Volcanoes captain Tyrone Theophile said: “Some of the players returned home, but we were able to re-assemble a few weeks ago for a camp here and things have been coming along.

“We have been hampered a bit by the rain, but we were still able to squeeze in a practice match, and the batsmen worked on occupation of the crease and bowlers on hitting good lines and lengths. To be honest, I have been quite satisfied with what I have seen from the batsmen and bowlers going into the season, and looking forward to the start of play.”

On rivalry with the Hurricanes, he said: “We do not take any team for granted. They will make us work for whatever result. We just want to play confidently. We just want to be positive whether we are batting, bowling or fielding, and the rest will work itself out.”

On being elevated to the captaincy for the first time, Theophile said: “I am looking forward to the challenge. It is an opportunity. All I can do is to give of my best at all times and try to work hard, so that the team will be successful by the end of the season.”

The visitors have quietly prepared for the season and they too, have had a bit of disruption to preparation, due to the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

As the last-placed side in the Championship over the last few seasons, they will want to reverse this trend and a strong opening performance could be an early motivating force.

The key loss for the Hurricanes is the wicket-taking ability of off-spin all-rounder Rahkeem Cornwall on Windies “A” duty, as well as West Indies fast bowler Alzarri Joseph on the tour of Zimbabwe.

Hurricanes batting looks strong on paper though, with Devon Thomas transferring from the Scorpions to be named captain, and the likes of Nkrumah Bonner, former West Indies Under-19 star Keacy Carty and Chesney Hughes at the heart.

A familiar face will confront the Volcanoes, with Mervin Matthew having transferred to the Hurricanes and should form a testing new-ball attack with Gavin Tonge with Jeremiah Louis to offer further pace support, even though Cornwall’s spin bowling will be missing initially.

On his return to the Hurricanes, Thomas said: “It’s great to be back around the players with whom I grew up playing. I have been away for two years, but I have got a lot more experience. We are looking to bring a lot of confidence into the first game, even though we know the Volcanoes have a decent group of players, but we just have to know our game and stick to our plans, and we will get the results for which we are looking.

On missing key players: “We have got a few young players, some of whom will be making their debuts this season, and all we can hope is that they can take their opportunities and do their best. Our preparations were hampered a bit by the weather, but we still got in some valuable time, so now we are just looking forward to taking. Once we can identify our strengths and weaknesses quickly, and we can adapt, we can put everything in to play.”

VOLCANOES (from) – Tyrone Theophile (captain), Audy Alexander, Gian Benjamin, Roland Cato, Kirk Edwards, Tarryck Gabriel, Kavem Hodge, Delorn Johnson, Sherman Lewis, Kyle Mayers, Obed McCoy, Liam Sebastien, Shane Shillingford
HURRICANES (from) ­– Devon Thomas (captain), Elvin Berridge, Nkrumah Bonner, Jason Campbell, Keacy Carty, Chesney Hughes, Jeremiah Louis, Mervin Matthew, Akeem Saunders, Stanny Simon, Jacques Taylor, Gavin Tonge, Terrence Warde
UMPIRES – Jonathan Blades (Barbados), Joel Wilson (Trinidad & Tobago)
MATCH REFEREE – Carlyle Felix