JAMAICA will continue the defence of their West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) regional four-day title against a formidable Barbados team at Sabina Park in today's second round of the tournament, starting at 10:00 am.
The Junior Bennett-coached Jamaicans, who are seeking a record fifth straight four-day title, beat the Windward Islands by 81 runs in last weekend's opening-round fixture.
Barbados, who are guided by Henderson Springer, were idle that round and start their 2012 four-day campaign today.
Talismanic batsman Christopher Gayle and all-rounder Andre Russell, who both featured prominently against the Windward Islands, will miss out due to contractual obligations in the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL).
The hard-hitting batsman Danza Hyatt, who was rested for the Windwards game, replaces Gayle in the 13-man squad, while left-arm pacer Sheldon Cotterell is in for Russell.
Lambert told the Observer he expects a tough challenge from Barbados and welcomed the inclusion of Hyatt and Cotterell in the squad.
"It's always tough playing against Barbados, but we have prepared ourselves well. We just need to go out there and execute.
"Cotterell brings something different because a left-arm pacer is unusual in regional cricket. Hopefully, if he gets the opportunity, he'll take it with both hands. Danza was given one week to rest and he looked good in the practice sessions that we had," he said.
The teams drew in the preliminary stage last season at Kensington Oval in Barbados, but Jamaica left the happier after narrowly taking first-innings honours. Jamaica made 324 and 340-8, while Barbados posted 322.
The Jamaica starting XI is likely to comprise Simon Jackson, Hyatt, Donovan Pagon, Brendan Nash, Lambert and wicketkeeper/batsman Carlton Baugh.
Spinners Nikita Miller and Odean Brown, along with seamers Andrew Richardson, David Bernard and Cotterell, are likely to carry the bowling burden.
Hyatt, 28, is pleased to be back in the Jamaica set-up and said filling the void left by Gayle will not be an easy task, especially after the tall left-hander cracked a magnificent 165 against the Windwards.
"I feel good and I'm pretty confident on my return to the team. I won't be trying to fill Chris Gayle's shoes; that's a big task. I'm going to play my game and hopefully, I can bat as long as possible," he said.
Barbados is captained by West Indies middle-order batsman Kirk Edwards. The 27-year-old has scored two centuries in six Test matches, including one on debut against India last year.
Fiery fast bowler Tino Best said he respects the quality of the Jamaican team but conceded his task will be less difficult with the absence of Gayle.
"Obviously, we come here to do well against Jamaica, but they are the four-time champions, so what more can you say but show the respect that ought to be showed?
"Definitely, our bowlers have some confidence after doing well against them in the (recently-concluded Caribbean Twenty20 tournament) T20.
"(Them) being without Chris Gayle make us a bit more comfortable, but at the end of the day they have Danza, they have Parchie (Brenton Parchment) and they have got some good batters," he said moments before a practice session at Sabina yesterday.
Best also commented on the dry nature of the batting surface and the likelihood it will favour spin bowling.
"It looks a bit brown. Obviously, playing against Jamaica, they have a lot of spinners so we expected the pitch wouldn't have a lot of grass. When teams are at home I guess they have to produce a pitch that will suit their bowlers.
"At the end of the day I don't think we should dwell on the pitch because we still have to run in and bowl fast," said the 30-year-old.
Barbados manager Livingston Coppin is expecting a strong performance from his experienced outfit, despite being inactive for the first round.
"Jamaica were off to a good start, winning their first game. But these guys have been training really hard. They should be ready for anything and anything other than that will leave me very disappointed. We have players who have played at Test level and we also have some promising young players," he said.
Aside from the skipper, Barbados can count on teenage sensation Kraigg Brathwaite, left-handers Jonathan Carter and Ryan Hinds, as well as the stylish Kyle Hope.
On paper the bowling attack is very strong, with pacers Fidel Edwards, Kemar Roach and Best, as well as towering left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn, all having West Indies experience.
The 23-year-old seamer Christopher Jordan is also a member of the squad, but is unlikely to feature in the starting XI. The six-foot tall bowler who represents Surrey in English County cricket reportedly moved from Barbados as a teenager and is seen as a West Indies prospect.