Superstars in name only
It is ironic, given the vast sums of money that have been put up for grabs in the coming days, that the opening fixture of the Stanford Super Series counted for absolutely nothing. There was no prize money on the table, and in the end, no lasting memories either, as the underdogs of Trinidad and Tobago failed in their bid to secure regional bragging rights against the misleadingly named Stanford Superstars.
Instead the big guys beat the little guys with ease, displaying the sort of Caribbean cool that looked like simplicity but came within a whisker of being grossly inefficient. With Chris Gayle dropping out of the line-up because of a family problem, and Shivnarine Chanderpaul suffering from a stiff neck, the Superstars line-up was anything but, and that was before their one remaining class act, Ramnaresh Sarwan, was bowled first ball by Samuel Badree.
In fact, had it not been for a pair of key performances from two of Trinidad's finest - Kieron Pollard and Dave Mohammed - the result could easily have gone the other way. With those two turning out for the Superstars and bowling tidily at key stages of the chase, and a third member of their trophy-winning side - Rayad Emrit - sitting on the opposition bench, Trinidad were forced to field three debutants in Justin Guillen, Kevon Cooper and Navin Stewart. Gutsily as the trio performed, this isn't exactly an ideal week to blood the next generation.
Middlesex, Trinidad's next opponents, may have similar gripes if Owais Shah makes the difference for England in Sunday's encounter, but by and large they have fewer such issues to contend with, as Daren Ganga disconsolately pointed out. "In an ideal world I'd have wanted to have an even game, but there's no what if," he said. "Middlesex have the benefit of an overseas player, so it's a bit disappointing, but this is a wonderful opportunity for the young guys to show their mettle. I'm sure this will do well for them and their careers."
Ganga said that there would be squad changes ahead of the Middlesex showdown, with experienced campaigners such as Richard Kelly and Amit Jaggernauth ready to compete for their share of a US$280,000 prize. But regardless of Trinidad's inexperience, they still managed to cause enough problems to a ragged Superstars line-up to reinforce the notion that England are clear favourites for the US$20 million match next Saturday.
It wasn't merely the manner in which Trinidad restricted the Superstars to an insubstantial 146 for 5 in their 20 overs. It was the contrast in approaches of the two batting line-ups. Stanford's men responded to a probing opening burst from Ravi Rampaul and Badree with woolly swipes and impetuosity - best exemplified by the mow across the line that accounted for Travis Dowlin.
The Trinidadians meanwhile remained calm throughout their innings (too calm, as it eventually turned out). With five overs to go they were exactly up with the Superstars run-rate, and the fact that they fell short in the final analysis said more about the gulf in class than any tactical failings. "It was a disappointing loss, but this will give us good momentum going into the Middlesex game," Ganga said.
Of the two sides, it is the victors who will have the greater concerns ahead of their future encounters, despite the protestations of their stand-in captain, Sylvester Joseph. "The pitch wasn't the best and 140-50 was a challenging total," he said. "I thought we lost a few wickets too early, but we knew Trinidad would come at us hard. They were competitive tonight and though they fell short, overall the game was a good one."
But there is an awful lot to be won and lost by the Superstars before this week is out, and the lapses they displayed in the field - in particular a howler of a dropped catch from Pollard at midwicket - didn't augur well for when the pressure is cranked up a million notches next Saturday.
"There are areas we need to work on. We need to work on our bowling, and in the field there were a few blunders," Joseph said. "We've been preparing for six weeks under these conditions, but we've not had a crowd or the media watching us. I think tonight was a trial for us, and hopefully we'll come back to show a better performance in the field."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo