The arrest of Sir Allen Stanford surely brings to a dramatic close the short and fractious relationship between the brash Texan and the administrators of English cricket, an unlikely marriage when it was first mooted and one that was never likely to last.
Sir Allen, who had long used the sporting pursuits of the wealthy, such as golf and polo, as a means of branding his financial services businesses, saw in the shortened ”Twenty20” version of cricket a chance to advance his name in the US.
Cricket, which he himself considered ”boring” most of the time, has never caught on in the US but Twenty20 was a fledgling three-hour crash-bang-wallop affair that he viewed as a thrilling blend of basketball, baseball and track and field and a product that could gain a foothold in the American market.
English cricket’s gatekeepers, protectors of the game’s finer traditions and hardly awash with cash, were in search of a Twenty20 financial partner of any description.
India had grabbed the opportunity offered by Twenty20 by setting up the Indian Premier League.
Last year’s debut IPL season not only turned into an overnight financial success but threatened to disturb the game’s established order by signing up the world’s best players for previously unheard of sums.
In stepped Sir Allen, who had built a base in the cricket-mad Caribbean, offering a partnership with the England and Wales Cricket Board.
He was prepared to bankroll an English Premier League and to devise other Twenty20 tournaments, rivalling the monies swirling around the Indian version.
But his idea of cricket as an entertainment jarred with the ECB and even the England players who the Texan was preparing to enrich.
Somewhat unwisely, the ECB signed up to a special Standard Super Series, a Twenty20 game played once a year for five years at a ground he built in Antigua between England and a West Indies XI. The prize each year? $20m, winner takes all.
When he helicoptered into Lord’s, the spiritual home of cricket, in London last June to announce the series, and had the prize money wheeled out in a vault containing $50 bills, English cricket’s hierarchy began to realise the consequences of this shotgun wedding.
Sure enough, the first game in November was blighted by controversy – poor facilities, Sir Allen’s impresario behaviour and a media assault on the whole project.
Had he not been preoccupied elsewhere, Sir Allen would this week have announced he was withdrawing the $20m game.
He was still willing to keep the relationship with the ECB going and sponsor a Twenty20 tournament in England this summer.
For English cricket grandees, the arrest of Sir Allen will give them a ready excuse to file for divorce and the ECB duly suspended negotiations with Sir Allen late on Tuesday, even if it leaves them searching for an alternative sugar daddy.
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