Small change, big incentive

Is money really the only thing that makes the world go round? Tonight we have an opportunity to put that premise to the test, as the Stanford Super Series gets serious for its two junior competitors. After two warm-up matches that were the very definition of lacklustre, Middlesex and Trinidad go head-to-head for a prize of US$280,000, and the right to be considered the best domestic Twenty20 cricket team on either side of the North Atlantic.
Let's be realistic. The money itself would be a pleasing reward for a week in the Caribbean sunshine, but by no stretch of the imagination is it a life-changing sum (that comes later in the week), especially when divided among 11 victorious players. Nevertheless, Stanford's concept - for better or worse - embodies the very essence of professionalism, and for the sake of the tournament it can only be hoped that the incentive brings the best out of the players involved.

Middlesex's captain, Shaun Udal, declared himself "quite happy" to have come within 12 runs of beating the best players in England on Sunday night, even if their failure to chase a total of 122 was a clear disappointment. Nevertheless, that game of oneupmanship was never going to whet the appetite quite like this evening's contest.

"The reason we are here is to beat Trinidad & Tobago and be crowned Stanford Twenty20 domestic champions," Udal said. "This whole trip is massive for us, there are 75 countries watching this around the world and with that comes big exposure for our players. Some of us are really experienced guys but in general we are a young team and we will be in the spotlight."

The spotlight, funnily enough, has been one of the major talking points of the tournament so far - to be precise, the four banks of 52 spotlights under which each of the six matches are being played. According to Udal, the towers are uncharacteristically low, on account of the ground's proximity to the airport, and therefore catching the white ball out of the night sky has so far proven to be something of a lottery.

It would take more than just dodgy lighting to excuse the comically inept blooper that Andrew Strauss produced during Sunday's fixture, however. Dropping Andrew Flintoff in single figures counts among the game's biggest crimes, but the manner in which Strauss let a lollipopped lob to midwicket slip through his mitts beggared belief. Still, he is not alone. Each of the four innings of the competition so far has included at least two fumbles, as if to suggest that the players are getting their excuses in early for when the million-dollar catch bursts through their hands later this week.

In spite of their defeat against England, Middlesex were able to take plenty encouragement from that match, not least the form of their pivotal spin pairing of Udal and Murali Kartik, whose economical wicket-taking proved instrumental to last season's Twenty20 Cup triumph. Udal was especially thrifty on Sunday, bowling four overs for 14, and having witnessed how effectively the Superstars' slow men throttled Trinidad & Tobago's ambitions on the previous evening, more of the same can be expected tonight.

There will be one change to Middlesex's line-up, with their big-hitting allrounder, Tyron Henderson, ready to slot back into the starting eleven, having been rested for the opening game. "We have an ace in the pack to throw in and who knows, he may well come out and do something special," said Udal. "It just needs somebody to connect with a few, then fields change, the bowlers' attitudes change and all of a sudden you have got 150-160. If you can get that many batting first it will take a hell of an effort to get that."

Middlesex will leave it late to decide who misses out to accommodate Henderson. The lanky Steve Finn might have been the man to make way, had it not been for his exceptional final over that left his county team-mate, Owais Shah, groping at thin air. Instead Neil Carter, a controversial loan signing from Warwickshire, could end up on the sidelines, having played himself into trouble with a frenetic and ineffective innings of 11 from 27 balls.

As for Trinidad & Tobago, they also fought valiantly in their opening game against the Superstars, and looked at one stage to have paced their chase to perfection, only to be found wanting for an extra gear when the time came to fling the bat. If they are the underdogs for this fixture, it is only because they have been significantly weakened by the loss of three key players to the Superstars - Keiron Pollard, Dave Mohammad and Rayad Emrit - as well as their injured kingpin, Dwayne Bravo.

In the absence of those players, T&T fielded three debutants on Saturday, all of whom acquitted themselves well, not least the young batsman Justin Guillen, whose previous claim to fame was that he was kidnapped in September 2005 and held hostage for 12 days. He opened a less notorious chapter of his life by top-scoring with 31 from 43 balls before being well caught on the boundary's edge by Darren Sammy, to leave his name very much in the frame for what could yet prove to be the biggest pay-day of his young career.