Vulgar, tasteless and divisive. Such are the adjectives attached to the Stanford Twenty20 jamboree.
It is allegedly divisive because if the 'England XI' beat the 'Stanford All-Stars', the players who actually play will get a million bucks each and the four who sit in the dressing room will only get a quarter of a million, and those England players who only feature in the Test squad won’t get anything at all.
What a terrible prospect. There will be big differences in the income levels of the various members of the various England squads, and this will have a hugely damaging effect on team unity, or so we are told.
Things could get as dreadful as they are in the Indian team dressing room, where Sachin Tendulkar is a squillionaire and Gautam Gambhir is not. I am sure there are tensions in the Indian dressing room, and that some of the fault lines are between the seniors (mostly very rich indeed) and the juniors (not yet very rich but hoping to be so), but they do not seem to be caused by money. If you, dear reader, are in your mid-thirties, consider how many 20-year-olds you know who aren’t irritating, and then think what it must be like to be cooped up in a dressing room with a bunch of them.
But we do not need to go to India to see inequality of income. There are already vast disparities in the England dressing room, even among the centrally-contracted. Those at the bottom of the scale get about £200K from the ECB, while captain of everything Kevin Pietersen gets something more like £500K. And that’s just basic pay.
The top order get paid considerably more by their bat makers for sporting the company logo on the face of their bat than does James Anderson. There are pictures of Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood on large advertising hoardings promoting exciting ranges of menswear and the like, but none featuring Matt Prior. Attaching his name to a ghost-written mid-career “autobiography” is unlikely to have left Flintoff or even Monty Panesar a poorer man, but insomniacs have yet to be afforded the opportunity to be bored silly by a similar tome featuring Alistair Cook. And so on.
Tastelessness and vulgarity seem to derive from the huge purse riding on a single game as though this was something totally new rather than a return to cricket’s origins. When Lord Frederick Beauclerk and the Duke of Devonshire competed for purses of 5,000 guineas in the 18th century, the stake was the equivalent of a million quid today. Substantial prize money for single games was commonplace until the mid-19th century, when the balance of power shifted.
No longer did the gentry have the basic assurance that the money would simply slosh around between one very rich person and another: the riff-raff professionals had become so good at the game that they would walk off with the dosh. The lower orders could not be trusted to know their place if they acquired great wealth, so the practice of offering large purses ceased, replaced by the hypocrisy of ‘shamateurism’. But really, how terrible is it that players should be able to rake in huge jackpots by winning games of cricket as well as by standing around in a studio in borrowed gear and letting the resultant photographs adorn billboards?
There will be problems caused by the influx of new money. Some players will gamble, drink or otherwise fritter both the money and their careers away, and some who miss out for unlucky reasons will no doubt get insanely jealous.
But the most plaintive predictions of the imminent collapse of civilisation seem to emanate from former players whose experience of international cricket was slight. Having ridden the gravy train in the second class carriage for a couple of suburban stops, they object to a new generation being pampered in first class on a round-the-world tour and from a position of moderate comfort presume to tell the newly rich how bitter and twisted they should feel about the newly very rich indeed.
What was that about vulgarity and tastelessness again?