Daren Ganga is becoming cosily familiar with Sir Allen Stanford's largesse. In 2006, he was the recipient of the runners-up cheque when Guyana pipped Trinidad to the final of the inaugural Stanford 20/20. Earlier this year, he and his team-mates made handsome amends for that setback by winning the follow-up event and the million-dollar cheque that came with it. Now, by seeing off Middlesex in the most compelling match yet witnessed in the Stanford Super Series, he's claimed a further substantial slice of Texan pie to see him through the economic downturn.
It was Stanford himself who handed over the spoils, and he could scarcely have been more satisfied at the outcome. Though the match once again lacked the pyrotechnics usually associated with Twenty20 cricket, the end result was a vindication of the quality that Stanford would have the world believe he is fostering through his involvement with Caribbean cricket. Middlesex arrived in Antigua with pedigree and were the favourites for this contest in many people's estimation, but on the night they were outwitted - brought low in a tactical battle that arguably had more in common with Test cricket than the biff-bang-wallop format that most people had turned up expecting to see.
It certainly wasn't the manner in which a West Indian side might be expected to make off with the loot, but under Ganga's guidance, Trinidad have become a cerebral bunch of cricketers. They paced their chase to perfection, keeping themselves in touch with wickets in hand before locating a vein of aggression at precisely the right moment. The match was sealed with a six, a towering clunk over long-on from Darren Bravo, but it had been in the bag for several overs beforehand, during Bravo and Denesh Ramdin's momentum-shifting stand of 67 in eight overs.
"We came here switched on, and we totally deserved our victory," Ganga said, whose stature as a leader continues to mushroom. Eighteen months ago, he was leading West Indies on a tour of England, and though that appointment unravelled through a debilitating loss of form, the reasoning behind it remains sound to this day. Not so long ago, Trinidad cricket was synonymous with Brian Lara, a consummate genius but a selfish and divisive character. These days, under Ganga's enlightened leadership, the team is all that counts - and the trophies are a testament to that ethos.
In the space of four years, Trinidad has become the powerhouse of West Indian regional cricket. In that time it has won two 50-overs titles, the four-day regional championship, consecutive Carib Beer Challenge Finals, and now two of Stanford's crowns. "Trinidad & Tobago cricket has a bunch of young players eager to make their mark, who want to enhance their reputation, and our reputation as a team," Ganga said. "We had everything to play for, and have relished the opportunity to compete against teams outside our region. Our planning has been spot on and it all came to fruition."
Ganga added that people might have questioned the thinking behind the team selection for this series, but sure enough there was no quibbling with the end product. Rather than fret about the vagaries of the wicket or the balance of the side, Trinidad concentrated on the dressing-room first and foremost. Three debutants were blooded in the Superstars match on Saturday evening - Justin Guillen, Kevon Cooper and Rishi Bachan - and all three acquitted themselves well in trying circumstances.
For the money match, however, Trinidad delved deeper into their squad and introduced the greater experience of Amit Jaggernauth and Richard Kelly, not to mention the teenage fearlessness of Bravo Jr, whose love of the big occasion could prove every bit the equal of his brother, Dwayne.
It all left Middlesex feeling rather bewildered. "When it came to the big occasion, we just weren't quite up for it," said their captain, Shaun Udal. "We didn't bring our A game to the party, which I was confident about us doing. For some reason we were slow out of the blocks with the bat, had a dodgy spell and if it wasn't for Neil Dexter at the end, we would have been lucky to get 100."
Ultimately the match was won and lost in six balls of bedlam at the end of the 16th over of Trinidad's chase, which was arguably the first sighting of Twenty20 cricket as the world knows and loves it. With the hapless Neil Carter in the thick of the action, two sixes and two dropped catches marked a momentum shift which stayed till the end.
"All the teams have struggled to hit boundaries," said Middlesex's opener, Andrew Strauss. "But the way Trinidad did it today was to stay in the game, keep wickets in hand, and then [attack] in the last five overs. This was an important game for us, we were representing our country as Twenty20 champions and it hurts we weren't good enough. But these are very different wickets to England and we haven't adjusted quickly enough."
In truth, Middlesex were not allowed to be good enough. The speedy legspin of Samuel Badree, who shared the new ball with the Man of the Match, Ravi Rampaul, left them groping for a response right from the start. Later, when it seemed they might start to reclaim the ascendancy with the ball, they were thwarted first by Ganga - whose unflustered style of accumulation has rarely been so suited to 20-over cricket - then by Bravo and Denesh Ramdin, whose spunky innings of 41 from 28 balls was the real difference between the sides.
He was not able to make it to the finish, but as he trooped off the pitch with a satisfied waft of the bat after carrying his team to within two runs of victory, Ramdin offered another insight into why this match had been Trinidad's to lose, rather than Middlesex's to win. Three Trinidadians were named in the Superstars squad - Keiron Pollard, Dave Mohammad and Rayad Emrit. Ramdin, the incumbent West Indies wicketkeeper, was not among their number, and there's no doubt it rankled. "Us players left out of the Superstars (squad) wanted to prove a point," said Ganga. They've done just that, and in some style.