Tonight, Chris Gayle's Stanford Superstars get their first chance to test their readiness for next Saturday's US$20 million showdown against England, when they take on the Caribbean's reigning 20-over champions, Trinidad & Tobago, at the Coolidge Ground in Antigua. The contest, the first of six matches in the Stanford Super Series, will be closely watched by the competition's two other competitors, Middlesex and England, who get their campaign underway on Sunday.
The match is a friendly with a serious edge. Quite apart from securing some regional bragging rights, the tournament offers a vital opportunity for each team to test the pitch conditions, while experimenting with the team combinations that will offer them the best shot at glory in the money-spinning fixtures that follow. On Wednesday, Trinidad and Middlesex will compete for a purse of US$400,000, with US$280,000 going straight to the winning side, and a cool US$20,000 to the evening's Man of the Match.
Trinidad are familiar with Stanford's riches, having made away with a million of his dollars for winning last season's Stanford 2020. They were narrowly beaten by Guyana in the first edition in 2006, and so have a pedigree in this format that few teams can match. They have, however, been deprived of valuable match practice in recent days, after their warm-up game against Barbados was washed out by heavy rain on Wednesday.
The team's success has also had an unfortunate knock-on effect, however, with three of their key players - Dave Mohammad, Rayad Emrit and Kieron Pollard - being plucked from the squad to join the Stanford Superstars team. They do, however, retain a core of players with international experience, including the captain, Daren Ganga, who led West Indies for part of their tour of England in 2007.
The Stanford Superstars side is hardly packed to the rafters with big names, however. Gayle is a world-class batsman, as are his top-order colleagues Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan, while Daren Powell, Darren Sammy and Jerome Taylor have been steady performers for West Indies for several seasons. But the remainder of the squad is made up of players with reputations to build rather than defend, including the wicketkeeper Lindon James, who leapfrogged both Denesh Ramdin and Carlton Baugh on the strength of an unbeaten 73 from 37 balls for St Vincent against St Maarten last season.
Stanford Superstars (from) Chris Gayle (capt), Lionel Baker, Sulieman Benn, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Lennox Cush, Travis Dowlin, Rayad Emrit, Andre Fletcher, Chad Hampson, Lindon James, Sylvester Joseph, Dave Mohammed, Kieron Pollard, Daren Powell, Darren Sammy, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Jerome Taylor.
Trinidad and Tobago (from) Daren Ganga (capt), Lendl Simmons, William Perkins, Richard Kelly, Amit Jaggernauth, Darren Bravo, Ravi Rampaul, Denesh Ramdin, Sherwin Ganga, Samuel Badre, Rishi Bachan, Justin Guillen, Daron Cruickshank, Navin Stewart, Kevon Cooper.