Whether it was the pressure of the big occasion, the money or the expectation, Middlesex wilted under the lights of the Standford Cricket Ground and surrendered their challenge for the Standford Cup.
A succession of dropped catches, fielding errors and extras, following a lame and directionless batting display, allowed Trinidad & Tobago to claim the $280,000 prize, with Middlesex having to be content with $100,000.
It would be wrong to chastise Middlesex too harshly, however. They were playing in alien conditions where the inadequacy of the facilities reduced the match to something of a lottery. Not only is the pitch sub-standard but so are the lights, rendering any contest unacceptably subject to chance. Furthermore, Middlesex could feel, with some justification, that they had not been given a fair preparation period.
While falling over himself not to make excuses, Middlesex captain, Shaun Udal, did say that Trinidad & Tobago’s previous experience of playing on the pitch represented “an extreme advantage”.
“We’ve not been allowed to train or practise on the pitch all week,” he said. “I have not known a ground where the visibility is as bad. Once the ball has gone above the lights you are just watching an area to see where it comes out of and you have to adjust accordingly.”
Alas, such issues have compromised the worth of the tournament. While there is much here to cherish and praise, the matches, as a spectacle, are not what they should be. Few new cricket-lovers will be won over by such low-scoring contests.
“It’s not really what Twenty20 is all about,” Udal said.
Certainly this ‘super series’ could do without reports of unrest between Sir Allen Stanford and the England team. Sir Allen is reported to have telephoned Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior to apologise after pictures of the latter’s girlfriend sitting on the billionaire’s knee were seen on the big screen during the match between England and
Middlesex. Perhaps the incident says more about the Engand players’ insecurity than it does about Stanford.
At least the match between Trinidad & Tobago and Middlesex had a relatively exciting finale. A 67-run partnership between Denesh Ramdin and Twenty20 debutant Darren Bravo (the 19-year-old brother of Dwayne) took Trinidad to the brink of victory, with Bravo driving a six over long-off to win the match with four balls remaining.
In truth, however, a target of under a run a ball was never likely to be enough to test Trinidad & Tobago, and the first two hours of this match were almost unrelentingly dull.
That Middlesex set any sort of target was largely due to Neil Dexter (25 balls, two fours). He thrashed the only three sixes of the whole innings to help his side snatch 37 from their final three overs.
The total was the third-lowest in Middlesex’s six-year Twenty20 history but, on this pitch, represented a score only 15 or so fewer than par. Dexter apart, Middlesex managed only four boundaries in their entire innings.
At 77 for six in the 17th over it had seemed Middlesex might fail to reach 100. Trinidad’s trio of spinners - Samuel Badree, Sherwin Ganga and Amit Jaggernauth - conceded only 62 from their 12 overs while seamer Ravi Rampaul (a member of the Ireland side that humbled Warwickshire last season) earned the man-of-the-match award for his four wickets.
Neil Carter endured another disappointing match. Dismissed early, being undone by Rampaul’s bounce, he bowled two good early overs but conceded 18 from his comeback over, the 17th of the innings. Twice he was hit for sixes by the excellent Denesh Ramdin (who should have been man of the match), the first tipped over the long-off boundary by Eoin Morgan, the second carved over point off a chest-high full toss that was also called no-ball. It was the over that effectively sealed the game.
Trinidad deserved their victory, however. Despite losing four players (Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Dave Mohammed and Rayad Emrit) to the ‘Superstars’ squad, they adapted to the conditions better and planned more effectively.
While all other sides have tried, in vain, to smash the ball in the first six overs, Trinidad instead kept wickets intact and targeted Middlesex’s supposed trump card, their spinners. The seven overs of Udal and Murali Kartick cost 39 and were wicketless, leaving Middlesex unable to stem the tide. Trinidad also fielded well and scarcely bowled a poor ball.
Middlesex had their moments. Dawid Malan, who batted so well against England, also showed real skill as a leg-spinner in this game; Darren Ganga was defeated by a perfect leg-break. Ben Scott was impressive, too. His stumping of Ramdin, standing up to seamer Tim Murtagh, was exceptional. Scott now deserves to be rated along with the very best keepers in England.
Meanwhile, it seems Middlesex had best get used to inequitable rules. They will shortly take part in the Champions League in India with the rules seemingly staked against them. The participation of Dexter and Carter is in grave doubt while they will also not have access to the plethora of overseas players that the Indian sides can utilise. “It’s a shame we can’t have the same level playing field as the other IPL teams,” Udal sighed.