Stanford saga is a lesson for cricket

The man who set out to single-handedly revive cricket in the West Indies and England will spend the next 110 years in prison, give or take.

Updated: June 18, 2012 11:27 IST
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Bangalore: The man who set out to single-handedly revive cricket in the West Indies and England will spend the next 110 years in prison, give or take. The Allen Stanford saga - and the T20 match between the two teams that embarrassed both - is already a footnote in the history of the game. As Mike Atherton asks in a collection of his writings, "(the affair has) a rather surreal tone. Was it really possible that an American 'financier' hoodwinked English cricket, offered the players a million-dollars-a-man match, cavorted around with the players' wives before falling foul of the Securities and Exchanges Commission? Did it really happen?"

It did, and cricket nearly paid a price for the greed and officials' lack of judgement.

Both were inspired - if that's the word - by India's status in world cricket. The English board hoped to use businessman Stanford to counter the IPL and to put India in their place. A year before the infamous match, Stanford had offered a similar winner-take-all deal to India, and it is to the credit of the Indian board that it turned him down.

In the end, Stanford's Ponzi scheme unravelled and the seven-billion-dollar fraud was exposed. The cricket match in Antigua earned further notoriety when Stanford was photographed with the wives of some English players on his lap, as well as for his habit of walking in and out of the dressing rooms uninvited.

Nasser Hussain, the former England captain, might have had his tongue in the vicinity of his cheek (or not) when he wrote: "Wives must remember that their husbands are potentially earning a fortune…if the man who is putting up all the money wants to give them a quick cuddle for the cameras, is that really a big problem?"

Cricket boards generally find it difficult to ignore millionaires who walk into their offices (or land on their iconic grounds in a helicopter) carrying suitcases full of money. Over a decade ago, the late Mark Mascarenhas pulled off just such a stunt to impress the Indian board with his sincerity and financial qualification to invest in Indian cricket. He carried US$10 million with him, although it may have been one million that has simply grown in the repetition.

When Stanford landed his helicopter at Lord's, there was something tacky about the whole business; only the ECB did not see it, blinded by the dollar signs in front of its eyes.

How did the English cricket board see this man as the saviour? Traditionalists have supped with the devil before, but few have been as unsubtle as this one. India's clout had to be reduced, and anyone who might help was welcome. He could land his helicopter at Lord's or in the dining room of the poet laureate; it didn't matter so long as he had money. England called wrongly. If they saw the horns and the pitchfork, they ignored these.

Darren Sammy, the current West Indies captain who was man of the match in that T20 game, has called the fall of Stanford 'unfortunate'. Gratitude for a man who made him a millionaire apart, Sammy is one of the lucky ones. Some of the players, including Shiv Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan, according to reports, were persuaded to re-invest their million in Stanford's tainted company.

Stanford caused English cricket enormous embarrassment - the saga did not find mention in the ECB annual report, for example - but in that embarrassment lies redemption. For, the greater the embarrassment, less likely is it that such history will repeat itself.

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