Kern De Freitas
Day 1 Barbados 36 for 2 (Brooks 23*) trail Trinidad and Tobago 304 (Ganga 120*, Bravo 54, Collins 4-46) by 268 runs
An unbeaten 120 by Daren Ganga, the Trinidad & Tobago captain, and two wickets late in the evening gave the home team a slight advantage over Barbados on the first day of the Carib Beer Challenge final at Guaracara Park. With Ganga holding up his end, the T&T tail wagged to reach 304 after being 29 for 2, and later 128 for 4.
The teams shared the honours of the morning session, with Barbados perhaps having the edge. The visitors got rid of the openers, Adrian Barath and Lendl Simmons, cheaply, leaving Ganga and Dwayne Bravo to consolidate to a decent position of 79 for 2 at lunch.
The decent Thursday morning crowd which had gathered before the start of play, especially to see Brian Lara, would have been disappointed to see his name was not on the scoreboard. Omar Khan, the T&T manager, confirmed Lara had opted to sit out the final due to his recurring knee problem, as well as commitments involving the West Indies' camp in Jamaica ahead of the World Cup.
On the field, Ganga's decision to bat seemed to backfire with the early loss of the two openers to Pedro Collins, who was stingy and accurate in a mean ten-over opening spell, which featured five maidens and two wickets for just ten runs. In his first over, he bamboozled Barath with a fierce yorker, disturbing the stumps in the process. Then, he induced Simmons, who was beginning to look dangerous on 18, to slash a wide ball into the gloves of wicketkeeper Patrick Browne with the score on 29.
Bravo joined Ganga at the crease and, after facing a few dot balls, went on the attack. He cut Dwayne Smith fiercely to the third man boundary, then whipped him authoritatively to the ropes at midwicket. Bravo then pulled Corey Collymore to midwicket for four and blasted Smith down the ground for another of his six fours before lunch. But he also survived two confident lbw appeals by Smith and Collymore. Ganga, playing the anchor role at the other end, steered Collymore elegantly through slip to the fence just before the break.
The T&T innings, though, began to fall apart in the post-lunch session. Bravo played a couple of sumptuous drives to bring up his 50, then arguably his best shot, a handsome drive off Collymore through extra cover for his ninth four. The very next ball, though, he uppercut into the hands of Smith at point. Kieron Pollard, recently included in the side for the World Cup, was next at the crease and he soon had to return to the pavilion, as he edged Collymore to Richards at second slip.
But Ganga soldiered on, being very watchful and dispatching the odd loose ball. He drove Hinds sweetly for two boundaries on the on-side and punished young Shemarh Brooks twice for bowling full tosses. At the fall of Pollard's wicket, Denesh Ramdin joined Ganga in the middle and they put on 41 for the fifth wicket.
Ramdin punished Collins twice in one over for wide bowling, crashing him to midwicket for four on both occasions, and slapped Tino Best into the fence at extra over. But soon after he was adjudged Collins' fourth victim by the lbw route to a delivery that kept low and next man in, Rayad Emrit. followed soon after for five, edging to Richards in the slip cordon. Richard Kelly took the score, along with Ganga, to 189 at tea. In the final session, Ganga and Kelly set about repairing the innings with a handy 60-run partnership.
Kelly, typically, refused to hang around and seemed to target Smith, hammering him twice to midwicket and driving fluently to the extra cover boundary. Ganga played the perfect foil, rotating the strike, with the odd four as well, and seemed to prefer the midwicket boundary and the erratic offerings of the excitable Best. Kelly struck the only six of the day, hoisting Hinds over midwicket. But the next ball, he succumbed to the obvious plan by the Bajans, holding out to Smith on the mid-wicket boundary.
Dave Mohammed, coming in next, did not add to the T&T total, playing Hinds off his pad and into the hands of Richards at short leg. Ravi Rampaul, at No. 10, stayed with Ganga to help him notch his third regional century for T&T in 2007 via an extra cover drive that pierced the field and sped to the ropes. That was his sixth boundary off his 215th ball and brought the celebratory raising of his bat and the approach of a handful of spectators, some bearing T&T flags, out to the middle offering congratulations.
Rampaul (5) and Amit Jaggernauth (6) partnered Ganga long enough to take the score past 300. After Kelly and Rampaul removed the two openers, Wayne Blackman and Richards, both for four, Brooks and Floyd Reifer took the Bajans to 36 without further damage. How they cope with T&T's tactics when the match resumes an day two will likely determine the outcome of this final and who walks away dual title-holders for the 2007 season.