February 19, 2009

ECB: egg on its face, in its hair, all over its jacket...

Andy Zaltzman

The current 'legal glitch' in Allen Stanford’s business proceedings has cast something of a shadow over the Antigua Test, a shadow in the shape of ECB chairman Giles Clarke’s eyebrows rising further and further up his head.

When the news of Stanford’s little commercial inconvenience broke on the BBC’s Test Match Special, qualified sage Vic Marks floated up a bit of Virgil’s Aeneid into the rough – “I fear Greeks bearing gifts,” he quoted, warming the hearts of those who believe TMS should still be broadcast entirely in Latin. The original, unexpurgated text of The Aeneid, recently discovered in a secret vault under the Lord’s pavilion, continued: “And I fear Greeks even more when they pitch up in a helicopter with 20 million bucks in crisp, non-sequential notes. The big wooden horse is one thing, and I’m not comfortable with it, but really, the chopper-and-cash combo is just vulgar.”

As soon as the rotor blade had first ruffled sacred Lord’s turf last year (reportedly prompting the late Sir Gubby Allen to spin so fast in his grave that he drilled his way out, rocketed skywards and is currently residing disgustedly in a low orbit over St John’s Wood, shaking his fists and dodging Russian satellites), many cricket lovers felt at best seriously queasy at almost every aspect of England’s involvement in Stanford’s little jolly. Others went further than reaching for the sick bag and immediately chundered involuntarily all over their Wisden collections, convulsing uncontrollably at the sheer affrontery and expensive cheapness of the entire sorry scheme.

Both those who felt the whole Stanford shebang was too good to be true and those who considered it too bad to be true have now been proved predictably correct. Stanford stands accused of what is, according the US Securities and Exchange Commission, “a fraud of shocking magnitude that has spread its tentacles throughout the world”. The SEC has seen a few magnitudinous frauds of late, so for it to be shocked suggests those tentacles belong to a disturbingly corpulent octopus.

Whilst acknowledging that even tycoons must be considered innocent until proven guilty, and whilst heeding the words of prominent Christian messiah Jesus Christ – “let he who has never been accused of an $8-billion fraud and had his assets frozen then tried to flee the country before going missing cast the first stone” – there were ample reasons to be cautious about Stanford when he first crashed through the window of English cricket consciousness.

These included:

  • Hearing the words “Texan” and “cricket” in the same sentence.
  • Hearing the words “billionaire” and “cricket” in the same sentence without the word “reclusive” also appearing.
  • The Richard Illingworth tribute moustache. Given the choice of all the cricketers on whom Stanford could have modelled his sub-nasal coiffeur, the choice of Not-Particularly-Tricky Dicky should have set alarm bells ringing in the Long Room. Perhaps it did, but those alarm bells were evidently drowned out by the vibrant ‘ker-ching’ of a thousand imaginary cash registers.
  • The revelation that Stanford does not like Test cricket. When translated into plain English, this essentially means that Stanford does not like cricket.

The ECB has emerged from this with egg on its face, in its hair, all over its jacket, and dribbling apologetically onto its shoes. In recent times, it has shown less aptitude for cricket administration than Josef Stalin demonstrated for fostering diversity in the creative arts. Clarke has spent the last couple of days shuffling as awkwardly as the odds-on favourite in the World’s Naughiest Schoolboy competition. He now bears the look of a man who had just nervously checked his roost and found a squawking armada of chickens making themselves very comfortable and wondering when their Welcome Home party will be staged.

His only defence is to claim that he had put a “No Returning Chickens Please” sign up outside the roost, and that, whilst he may have expected the poultry to return, he was not expecting them all back so soon and at the same time. However, as my grandmother used to say to me: “Don’t complain about being eaten by a horse if you’ve chosen to play polo dressed as a sugarlump.”

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer

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Posted by Nathan on (February 26, 2009, 7:06 GMT)

This is great stuff ... so funny but with relevant points as well. Andy, I hope you (and your granny) don't mind me borrowing the 'Don’t complain about being eaten by a horse if you’ve chosen to play polo dressed as a sugarlump' phrase ... that is a cracker!

Posted by Pedrozinho on (February 21, 2009, 20:49 GMT)

It is interesting to see how all the legends of the game who rushed to stand next to Stanford and Clarke have mysteriously not commented on the whole issue. One Sir Ian Botham was standing in the photoshoot and was all in favour of it...strange how he hasn't commented despite the fact he's on Sky and would have had ample opportunity to do so. I mean it's in Antigua, the West Indies are involved as well etc etc. Come on Beefy and all the other figures, are you going to criticise as well??

Posted by Ryan on (February 20, 2009, 22:45 GMT)

R Sivasubramaniam: I must point out that Stanford was NOT a British knight. He was knighted by Antigua and has a different 'honour' to 'British' knights.

It seems he practically owned the previous Antigua govt and even sat in on cabinet meetings.

Posted by ram on (February 20, 2009, 20:58 GMT)

ECB, such a dope. How can you cancel something thats already been cancelled, What you trying to do save name. Ps. ECB your name is not tarnished by association with Stanford.

Posted by Srik on (February 20, 2009, 16:58 GMT)

Hilarious. The DJ Gallo of cricinfo.

Posted by Mohamed Z. Rahaman on (February 20, 2009, 15:43 GMT)

According to National Public Radio (NPR) here in Wash. DC., it appears like a lot of very experienced and savvy financial investors, analysts, brokers etc., were fooled by Stanford. While the ECB always had options, the WICB was forced into this marriage with Stanford. Many, including Tony Cozier sang the praises of Stanford. Kudos to Holding and Lloyd to leave when they realised that Stanford did not care for WI cricket or Test Cricket. ECB's mistake, was that they arrogantly believed that Cricket power (read money) should remain in the hands of the - sorry to say (white establishment). What they should have done and should do now, is embrace the fact that India is a major player in world cricket. For years non-English cricketers went to England to better themselves, now the tables have shifted somewhat. And please spare me the glee (about the fall of Stanford) that I hear from English commentators. They love to kick a man when he's down. Thank you.

Posted by StJohn on (February 20, 2009, 15:41 GMT)

Funny piece, but it's easy with hindsight to criticise the ECB. The ECB did not have onerous due diligence duties: it was not acquiring Stanford's business. Nor is it responsible to shareholders: it does not have a fiduciary duty to cricket fans. Also, it is not clear how the ECB will make any actual loss: Stanford fulfilled any obligations this year and any future monies are hypothetical. The real issue is the impact on WI cricket. Despite numerous moaners & curmudgeons, Stanford was good for cricket, especially in WI. His attempt to Americanise cricket is a good thing in a region where so many potential cricketers & fans have been lost to the riches, glitz and speed of US sports, especially basketball. I favour Test matches too. But while stuffies bemoan Stanford as distasteful, or "not proper cricket", I see it as innovative re-invention of the game for a new age & new fans. Cricket will be poorer without Stanford. And not just in money terms.

Posted by Parth Pala on (February 20, 2009, 15:10 GMT)

I think a lot of people saw this coming. In order to take on the BCCI to keep some remniscent of power that the ECB wielded in the pre-1992 (change of voting structure) and pre-1998 (economic position) in typical fashion sold its soul to the highest bidder in order to compete with the IPL. The parallel to the financial markets is uncanny though one has to say :D...

On another note the article is hilarious , keep it going big man!

Posted by Rasif on (February 20, 2009, 15:04 GMT)

Good one, Shyam ! That one is right up there with Andy's comments.

Posted by Anthony Hall on (February 20, 2009, 13:57 GMT)

I really enjoyed this article. Stanford was good for West Indies cricket to a certain extent. He injected some cash to cricketers who are not really paid professionals. However, I suspected something was wrong when Michael Holding pulled out of the Legends. He suspected something was wrong. Holding is a man of principle. Therefore, I was not surprised when Stanford disbanded the Legends and also stated that he was withdrawing some funds he had earmarked for cricket development. He knew this day was coming. He was using the feud between Digicel and Cable and Wireless as a distraction.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Zaltzman
Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on ESPNcricinfo.

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