HEAD coach Junior Bennett defended the composition of the national team ahead of yesterday's departure to Trinidad & Tobago to contest the Caribbean Twenty20 (CT20) cricket tournament, despite partially conceding to claims that the 14-man squad appears to be short on top-order batsmen.
Bennett, who has led Jamaica to numerous triumphs in the regional 50-overs and four-day competitions, believes the inclusion of several versatile players will provide the ideal balance for the T20 format.
"Looking at the batting it may seem short of out and out batsmen, but on the other hand, there are good all-rounders who can be very effective in T20 cricket. Also, sometimes people focus only on batting in T20 cricket, but you also have to look at bowling those 20 overs, which is very important," he told Jamaica Observer.
With the youthful squad lacking outstanding batsmen Christopher Gayle and Marlon Samuels due to their obligation to the Australian Big Bash event, as well as sidelined wicketkeeper Carlton Baugh Jnr, the veteran coach noted the significance of their absence, but urged the more experienced senior players to step forward.
"There is no question that it is hard to fill some gaps. When you talk about players like Chris Gayle, Marlon Samuels and a Carlton Baugh it is really hard to replace them. But we have also become accustomed to playing without international players, so it is something we are conditioned for. The 14 selected have been entrusted to get the job done and they will have to do it.
"Some (senior) players will have to pull added weight. With the inexperienced players in this team it is important that senior players shoulder the burden. We have young John Campbell, Aldaine Thomas, and Jamie Merchant. Yannick Elliott, Andre McCarthy are also some players who lack the experience in this format," Bennett said.
Though reigning champions T&T are seen by many as front-runners for the title, Bennett chose to downplay the importance of anyone donning the favourites' tag.
"T20 cricket is a high-intensity game, so I hardly can look at anyone as favourites. Our chances are as good as anyone's. It is going to come down to how well we execute. Once we play to our potential and play sensible cricket then I believe we will be very competitive throughout the tournament. We have to just plan carefully," he argued.
The former youth coach outlined areas of preparation that were stressed on to ensure that the batters can maximise on scoring opportunities.
"We are satisfied with the preparation and now it is just for us to go out there. We worked hard on plenty areas to ensure we scored off as many balls as possible. Definitely, the dot ball (deliveries that are not scored off) issue is a major one and we have been working on that.
"We also have been trying to get good starts. Over the years we have seen where when we get a good start up top we usually end with a good team total. That's an area we are looking at. We've identified the Powerplay Overs that have more fielding restrictions and in match simulations we tried to see how well we could benefit there. We also looked on how to manipulate and get runs in the middle overs of the innings," Bennett added.
The Jamaicans, who finished second last season, are seeking a maiden hold on the regional Twenty20 title and will open their account against the hosts at the Queen's Park Oval in Port of Spain tomorrow evening.
Meanwhile, Bennett is not expecting too much challenge switching from one environment to another despite the first phase of the competition being staged in Trinidad from January 6-12 and the second half set for the Beausejour Stadium in St Lucia from January 15-20.
"The conditions in both territories should be similar. I don't expect the pitches in Trinidad to be too quick and once we settle well there I think it should not be hard for us in St Lucia," he said.
Squad — Tamar Lambert (captain), Nkrumah Bonner, John Campbell, Andre McCarthy, Andre Russell, David Bernard, Aldaine Thomas, Nikita Miller, Sheldon Cotterell, Jamie Merchant, Krishmar Santokie, Odean Brown, Danza Hyatt, Yannick Elliott.
Coach — Junior Bennett
Manager — Donovan Senior
Physical trainer — David Bernard Snr