The contrast could hardly have been more stark – the Superstars celebrated and England slunk off with their tails between their legs. But the contrast was not limited to on-field matters.
While the Caribbean have embraced the Stanford Superseries with open arms, the English remained stand-offish. The England team came to Antigua to help encourage the people of the Caribbean back to the game by playing thrilling cricket. Instead, they were mediocre. More importantly, they were apologetic in their approach. Unfortunately, it has been interpreted as churlishness.
Their mistake was believing that this was all about money. It is not so. That was a ploy to grab public attention, a very successful ploy. The purpose of this event was always to revive cricket in the West Indies. And, judged on that basis, it was an unmitigated success.
It is hard to equate the media coverage in England with the reality. I have experienced a well-run tournament, a superb atmosphere, the best-drilled Caribbean side I’ve seen and a passion for cricket unrivalled anywhere but India.
Sir Allen Stanford may have his faults. My own view is that he is good for cricket. His investment has revitalised the game in the Caribbean and the project is still in its early stages. He has proved that, with proper training and investment, the latent talent of West Indian cricketers can be harnessed. He is working with the national boards and will shortly announce investment plans for more cricket in Caribbean schools.
But some made up their minds before the tournament. They were willing it to fail, arguing that it was wrong for England to be party to such “a pantomime” (as Lord Maclaurin, who isn’t here, called it), and that it was wrong that them to be “bought” for such an event.
Many of the critics miss the point. The money was just an incentive; the issue with the WAGs almost too inconsequential to mention. Stanford’s somewhat belligerent behaviour an irrelevance. There was nothing here to damage Test cricket. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Just as 40-over cricket was the “gateway drug” for many lovers of the game, Twenty20 may prove similarly positive. The England team weren’t bought, they were a part in the fight to recover cricket’s popularity in the Caribbean. Surely that’s an admirable aim? And if it helps keep England players out of the clutches of the Indian leagues all well and good.
Yes, there have been teething problems but the ground is new and the recent hurricane undeniably had an impact. As one local told me “no-one ever complained about the lights before the English came”.
After a lacklustre World Cup, the people of Antigua have fallen back in love with cricket. Doesn’t that make it all worthwhile?