He may have won over the government of Antigua, a host of West Indies cricket legends and the cricket boards of England and West Indies, but there’s one thing that Sir Allen Stanford’s billions cannot guarantee: the weather.
Hurricane Omar, which dropped five inches of rain on this pretty ground in about 12 hours little more than a week ago, is in danger of spoiling the Stanford Super Series. It has left the outfield horribly slow and the pitch two-paced and uneven. What should have been a festival of attacking cricket looks likely to bee a cagey encounter decided not by fours and sixes but by nudges and nurdles. That’s like a party without beer.
The matches could also be something of a lottery. The proximity of the ground to airport - barely a cricket ball throw - has necessitated unusually low floodlights. It renders any high catch almost impossible and, come November 1, there could be some very expensive misses.
It would be a shame if this event was deemed a failure. Though there is a mountain of cynicism in England - almost as if some are willing the tournament to fail - the impact of Stanford on cricket in the Caribbean is clearly positive. People are talking about it and attending the matches in numbers. It’s too early to talk about a full-scale revival of West Indies cricket but a successful Stanford Super Series can only help.
Stanford is certainly an interesting character. Wandering around the ground shaking hands and holding babies, he presents a faintly ridiculous figure; a politician chasing votes. The fact that he is the island’s largest employer and has an annual income three-quarters of a billion dollars larger than this nation means he has won over local minds. But he wants their hearts, too.
He certainly has charisma. Even in the presence of Sir Viv Richards or Kevin Pietersen, it is Stanford that demands attention. Heads turn to watch him like sunflowers follow the sun. Whether his motives are as benevolent as he claims is debatable - there is a Stanford-related advert everywhere you turn - but in an age when private money helps builds schools and hospitals, it would surely be foolish to dismiss his help.
Ultimately, though, it won’t be Stanford’s money or charm that proves decisive; it will be the cricket. On the evidence of the first two matches, it has been somewhat lacklustre. Stanford himself said this format of the game was “all about entertainment” but after the first two matches, there has been precious little on-field excitement.
A rusty England prevailed comfortably enough - by 12 runs - on Sunday night but Middlesex will regret a host of spurned opportunities. The dropped four chances in the field - one, by Andrew Strauss off Andy Flintoff’s first ball was as easy a catch as can ever have been spilled - and gave away four free-hits through front-foot no-balls; left-arm spinner Murali Kartik being the culprit on three occasions. While the drops might have owed something to the floodlights, the no-balls were simply sloppy.
England will need to improve if they are to beat the ‘Superstars’, however. While Stanford’s men have just had a seven-week training camp, England have had two months’ rest and looked in need of match practice.
James Anderson, losing his run-up and lacking pace, struggled for rhythm throughout while off-spinner Graham Swann will surely come into the side to capitalise on the slow pitch and obvious turn. Luke Wright, who neither batted nor bowled on Sunday, would seem the obvious casualty, though someone else may have to make way for Steve Harmison.
Dawid Malan (41 not out from 33 balls; five fours, a straight six driven off Pietersen) was the only batsman to stand out on Sunday. He scored most runs in the match with unrivalled flair. Aged 21 and after only a handful ofgames, he looks set for a golden future.
Neil Carter endured a less fulfilling evening. Though he bowled well enough, generating decent pace and suffering from a dropped chance, his batting was less successful. On loan from Warwickshire, he appeared out of his depth at this level, swinging with increasing desperation but rarely making contact.
Stuart Broad proved just too good for him and Carter failed to score off 22 of the 27 balls he faced - hardly the pinch-hitting role Middlesex had in mind.
“It’s a little bit of a shame,” Pietersen said, reflecting on the pitch. “But it’s the same for both sides. This is one of the biggest games in sport - in financial terms - and nothing will diminish it.”
England will focus on catching practice under lights in the next few days. As Pietersen said: “There could be someone under a $20m catch on Saturday.”
Given the evidence so far, most players will be hoping it is not them.