Perhaps it was the brash nature of the announcement, or maybe it’s simply because he’s an American, but Sir Allen Stanford’s entrance into cricket has not been welcomed by many in England.
His most ambitious venture yet, the Stanford 2020 Super Series, began over the weekend, with most seemingly dismissing the event as a gimmick.
To some extent that cynicism is understandable. Cricket is teeming with new Twenty20 tournaments set up to exploit the current trend and Stanford’s version is the biggest and brashest of the lot.
We also know that he approached at least two other countries (South Africa and India) before inviting England to take part in this series; a development that undermines the lavish praise he has heaped on the England and Wales Cricket Board.
But, behind the hype and bluster, there is something interesting going on in the Caribbean. Something that could help cricket prosper long into the future.
These games do matter. For a start there are signs that Stanford’s principal ambition, to revitalise West Indies cricket, is already starting to bear fruit.
The first game of the ‘super series’ was played in front of a packed crowd of locals and with an excellent atmosphere; all in stark contrast to the lacklustre World Cup out here only 18-months ago. Antigua, at least, is utterly enthralled by Stanford-style cricket.
The games have wider significance, however. The match between Middlesex and Trinidad & Tobago (the respective champions of the domestic Twenty20 leagues) is, arguably, the first serious equivalent of a champions league in cricket. Yes, the Indian board is staging the ‘official’ champions league, but the veracity of that competition is so compromised by politics that its worth is debatable.
Furthermore, Stanford’s wealth is providing the only realistic counter to the lure of the Indian leagues.
Without this big-money series – and remember it is meant to be an annual event – it seems likely that several more England and West Indian players would have opted out of international cricket. The Indian Premier League remains the greatest threat to English cricket.
Perhaps we should not dismiss Stanford’s seemingly vulgar marketing approach, either. While flying a helicopter into Lord’s and parading US$20?million may not have appealed to traditional cricket-lovers, it just might have captured the imagination of a new audience. He may not be to everyone’s taste, and many may distrust his motives, but Stanford may be just what cricket needs.
Meanwhile, in the first match of the tournament, on Saturday night, the Stanford Superstars (never has the word ‘superstar’ been bandied around so liberally) defeated Trinidad by 22 runs.
Though much of the rest of the country bears the scars of a hurricane that hit little more than a week ago, the Stanford Ground looked immaculate and it was impossible not to be impressed by the organisation of an event that does seem to have captured the imagination of people in the Caribbean.
It’s just a shame that the scheduling of the games – they will finish at around 1am UK time – means so few people in England will see them.
Middlesex’s big game is on Monday night. Their warm-up plans have not gone smoothly but, boosted by the inclusion of Neil Carter in their squad, they will earn US$400,000 if they defeat Trinidad, the Caribbean Twenty20 champions.
Middlesex’s first warm-up game was abandoned because of the hurricane and the second because the opposition were not adequately insured. But with Angus Fraser now confirmed as the club’s director of cricket and Shaun Udal confirmed as captain until the end of 2009, Middlesex do now appear to be moving in the right direction. It is most unlikely that Ed Smith, the deposed captain, will remain at the club next season.