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Teams ready for Stanford cash clash

The first clash for cash in the Stanford Super Series gets underway this evening when Trinidad and Tobago's 20/20 cricketers seek to turn back the challenge of English champions Middlesex in the "Champions Cup".

It will be another big night for local cricket, the kind to which the team led by Daren Ganga has become increasingly accustomed.

However, to add the US$180,000 at stake for the winners of this game to the US$1million they took away when they won the Stanford 20/20 regional series in February, the T&T boys will have to play a much sharper game than the one they managed against the Stanford Superstars at the Stanford Cricket Ground Saturday night.

That 22-run defeat was suffered by a team missing regular allrounder Richard Kelly and off-spinner Amit Jaggernauth and including three players on debut--left-handed batsman Justin Guillen and all-round types Navin Stewart and Kevon Cooper.

According to Ganga, Saturday's combination gave him a chance to see "some players in different roles. We've seen what we wanted to see, now it's all about making that final decision for this game against Middlesex".

What Ganga and the rest of a good-sized crowd saw Saturday was a mixed bag from T&T against a Superstars outfit missing their captain Chris Gayle and most accomplished batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

A stiff neck kept Chanders off the field, while in the words of Superstars stand-in captain Sylvester Joseph, Gayle "had some personal problems with his family back home, so he decided not to play this game because mentally he's not really focused on this game because he had to take care of a few things back home".

Joseph added: "Chris promised us that he would be available for the next game. We are hoping that all goes well with his family."

Joseph proved quite a handy deputy, however.

Coming in at number four to replace first ball victim Ramnaresh Sarwan with bowler Samuel Badree on a hat-trick, Joseph batted through the remaining 12.2 overs of the innings to finish on an unbeaten 45 as the Superstars got up to 146 for five in their 20 overs batting first.

"That was one of the team's strategies," Joseph said. "One of the top four needed to bat through and I think in the past two weeks or so, I've been hitting the ball good and batting brilliantly. It was, tonight, my turn again to take the team right through."

Ganga had been expecting to have to chase a total of no more than "120, 130", especially after the Superstars had only reached 93 for three with five overs remaining.

But one of T&T's own, Kieron Pollard, then got 24 off 14 balls which included a mighty pull for six off Stewart in the penultimate over.

Pollard, one of the opposition's most effective performers on the night (he later picked up one for 24) had by then already been dropped in the deep by Ravi Rampaul.

That was one of three chances missed by the T&T fielders on the night. Opener Travis Dowlin, who got the second highest score of 25 and shared a third wicket stand of 55 with Joseph, benefited from the other two.

The extra runs conceded would prove crucial.

The Superstars also collected an innings-high 13 runs in the last over entrusted to Cooper.

On the slow pitch where the bounce was not the most even, 147 was a more challenging winning target than it seemed on paper, but still gettable.

T&T's hopes of victory diminished considerably inside the first five overs, though, when Lendl Simmons edged Jerome Taylor to wicketkeeper Lindon James the first ball he received and a potent-looking Perkins was bowled off-stump, yorked practically, by a full Sulieman Benn delivery.

Guillen's innings top-score of 31, while embellished by a few attractive strokes, took him 43 balls to make. And while he and his skipper were together, only 26 runs came in five and a half overs.

The balance was never reversed as T&T closed on 124 for eight. They seemed a team without sufficient personnel to keep the momentum going in the middle and lower order.

Ganga, however, disagreed.

"I think it's not the (lack of) firepower," he said. "Those middle overs are not about blasting the ball to the boundary, it's about turning over the strike and running twos and that sort of thing. We didn't do that well. We have the firepower to accelerate We have our plans, we just didn't play it well but hopefully against Middlesex we'll get it right."

There will be little room for error tonight.

Middlesex, with bowlers with the international experience of left-arm spinner Murali Kartik and captain Shaun Udal and batsmen the calibre of England left-hander Andrew Strauss, are equipped to keep T&T out of the money.

Ganga has fashioned golden performances from what seemed modest resources before, though.

But success tonight would be his piece de resistance, a truly million-dollar effort.

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