This week has been a bad one for the newest form of our most dearly beloved game. It seemed that 2008 was the absolute watershed moment for the T20 format. The first season of the IPL, the Stanford Millions competition in the West Indies, and of course the T20 World Cup, won, appropriately, by India. But 2009, and particularly this past week, has proved a real test for the form known as ‘Hollywood Cricket’
The man at the centre of all of this is the American businessman Allen Stanford. Back in 2008 Stanford famously rolled into the home of cricket, Lords, with a basket full of money, and won quick friends.
His inaugural tournament, at the ground named in his honour in Antigua, saw a bunch of West Indian teams, play the best County side in England, and the England cricket team itself. From the get-go the competition had the real feeling of a farce. Why were West Indian players playing for a team called Stanford Superstars? Why would a national team involve itself in what was set-up as a franchise competition? The answer was of course the mighty dollar…in fact $20 Million or so.
The first sign of problems should have been that the game of cricket was being sold-out to a man who professed to have no interest in the actual game. But the cash strapped West Indians, and for some reason the Poms, jumped straight into bed with the Texan. Another sign of the problems with Stanford was the extraordinary footage of the billionaire cavorting with the English players wives during a competitive game.
But still, although the players made it clear that the situation was becoming increasingly uncomfortable, the lure of the mighty T20, and the dollars that came with it were too much to refuse.
When word first came out last week that Stanford’s millions were in fact based largely on fraud, it really should have come as no surprise. Suddenly the egg on the face of cricket administrators was so apparent, that even they couldn’t shrug it off. Much has now been written about the incredible lengths that the game will go to, to attract corporate funding. The cash cow of T20 was previously unquestioned. Now, of course, the Stanford Millions will be called off, and reports suggest that many of the West Indian players had been talked into investing their prize money back into Stanford’s fraudulent business practices, thus they now had not even the dollars to show for it.
Another blow to T20 is the increasing range of players who are nominally pulling out of the upcoming IPL tournament. Already Australian stars Mitchell Johnson and Michael Clarke have reaffirmed their disinterest with the competition, and now Ricky Ponting, who was admittedly quite poor for the Kolkata Knight Riders, has pulled out. With the cricket schedule so packed, it is increasingly going to be a conscience call for players juggling monetary and national interests. In fact, speaking of juggling, what is to be said of the England cricket team, who heard of their upcoming riches after they had been allowed to be involved in the IPL, and then subsequently got skittled for 51 by one of the weakest teams in the world. Surely players are now seeing that perhaps the juggling act is increasingly difficult. What seemed easy money is now certainly something else.
T20 came around incredibly quickly. Sure it has had a life at English county level for quite some time, but the fact we had an international world cup and the inaugural franchise competition so soon after the game’s inception, is extraordinary. I wonder about the true longevity of the shortest game. The games are certainly exiting, but there is little room for subtlety or intrigue, players either smash it and get a boundary, or smash it and get out. If one of the major arguments against ODI’s has been their sameness, surely the same is only multiplied in T20. For every ‘David Warner’ Moment, there is a myriad of relative sameness. Smash…Six…Smash…Out.
As money dries up worldwide the only real incentive to be involved in the game will diminish also. So far there are no real outcomes to one-off International T20’s as we have seen between Australia and South Africa and New Zealand, this summer. These games are almost International Friendlies, as the main attraction for the game has been the IPL and its riches. But, as I stated, if the dollars dry up, or are lost in fraudulent situations such as that of Allan Stanford, then not only will the administrators have to think about the real purpose of the game, but they will also have to question their decision-making before they jump into bed with any gung ho businessman with a buck.
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