February 19, 2009

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

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.

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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