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.
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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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • 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!

  • 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??

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Srik on February 20, 2009, 16:58 GMT

    Hilarious. The DJ Gallo of cricinfo.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • Rasif on February 20, 2009, 15:04 GMT

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

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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??

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Srik on February 20, 2009, 16:58 GMT

    Hilarious. The DJ Gallo of cricinfo.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • Rasif on February 20, 2009, 15:04 GMT

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

  • 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.

  • Andrew on February 20, 2009, 13:52 GMT

    First Tim Curtis (in your first post predicting the outcome of the 2009 Ashes) and now Richard Illingworth... what have you got against Worcestershire's 1988 and 1989 championship winning side? Will your next post see similar abuse hurled at Phil Newport, Stuart Lampitt and Steve Rhodes?

  • Ravi Philar on February 20, 2009, 13:25 GMT

    Money talks, but doesn't play cricket. So, wily Giles was strung along by Sly Allen. Surprised? Giles will now turn his attention to trying to sell "20/20" tea to Indians and Sri Lankans. I hear Stanford agreed to surrender if the FBI promised not to pipe in TMS 24/7 into his cell. That's prison cell. The FBI were going to broadcast either the "fastest" centuries ever made by Barrington and/or Boycott or Collingwood. Canada's sports pages could surely use a writer like Andy Z.

  • Delboy on February 20, 2009, 9:17 GMT

    Word is our man was found in his car at the end of the 3rd test no doubt he tuned in to TMS and succumbed to the umpires decision. Gues when asked to plead his might be ; I don't like CRICKeeeeeeeeT, I love it!

  • Ralph Zimmermann on February 20, 2009, 8:57 GMT

    Hilarious take on the issue!

  • R Sivasubramaniam on February 20, 2009, 8:50 GMT

    Come on Andy! Be a little more chivalrous. Look at the plight the ECB and the WICB were in when the offer was made. The trunk full of US 100 dollar notes - what would you have done? Mind you there is a saying: "Never look a gift horse in the moutyh." They needed the money and they went for it taking the man at face value - by the way he was a British Knight - Sir. You don't expect someone with a title like that to be a 'crook' do you? So they fell for it. Of course now they are feeling foolish, but at the time they made that decision they were looking at the revenue and how it would help English cricket and the English cricketrers who had lost out on the IPL deals. Siva from Singapore

  • derek on February 20, 2009, 8:25 GMT

    Andy, in all earnestness pls go on Twitter. It'll raise your profile and bring cheer to legions. You're blogging anyway..

  • rob heinen on February 20, 2009, 7:41 GMT

    For a moment Giles Clarke thought he was allowed to play with the big boys. He should be happy now just to escape with the discovery that it's definitely NOT his league and leave stage quietly. Maybe he should get in the wine selling business. Just a suggestion.

  • Satishkumar on February 20, 2009, 6:40 GMT

    Hilarious!! Brilliant!! Nothing has described the whole fiasco and the ECB's decision-making ability better than this article.

  • ravBalkish on February 20, 2009, 5:21 GMT

    The ego ridden ECB has found its match in Stanford and with it brings down heaps of british cricket fans who acused IPL arising out of jealousy

    well, stanford met his waterloo in SEC - many ey popping cricket sponsors will now be wary, that they will be subject to inquiries for absurd player fees

  • Anonymous on February 20, 2009, 5:02 GMT

    "Don’t complain about being eaten by a horse if you’ve chosen to play polo dressed as a sugarlump" Hilarious. Couldn't find that quote on the internet... Is it yours (or as you claim, your Granny's)?

  • Geronimo on February 20, 2009, 4:47 GMT

    Perhaps the ECB should look east find a new oligach or better goldigach as oil is at a low now and gold is up and take the game to the ruskies.... no worries about crashing satellites or Gubby falling back down to earth.....he would be as close to heaven as he is ever going to get however, the ruskie Mafia might start betting on the games keeping the graft boys on the hop and we (all purist cricket lovers) will not have to bend over and take one i.e. get shafted by the IPL as being the pinnacle of the beautiful game. By the way has anybody checked if the IPL is kosher, or if that too will go down the pan ? it is 20/20 for a lot more than 20 after all !

  • Phil. on February 20, 2009, 4:20 GMT

    Stanford made the NY TV news tonight under the headline "Madoff mini-me"

  • Alex on February 20, 2009, 3:37 GMT

    The US securities commission only found out about this fraud thanks to a whistleblower. According to a recent article in Forbes he is worth $2.2 billion, and manages $51 Billion of assetts. These guys would have done many weeks of research to have him as the 205th richest american. He has fooled a lot of people and many governments, in comparrison the ECB is very small fish. I bet any company could pass due dillegence on his companies right up until 1 minute before the fraud was anounced.

    The ECB have got some major problems becuase of this, but this is through no fault of due dilligence. Yes they should have embraced the IPL infact I think they should really have a EPL to play at exactly the same time and then the best teams from the 2 leagues can compete against each other aka the champions league. Alternatively they could try and put an English Lions team in the IPL and try and win the tournament!

  • Anonymous on February 20, 2009, 3:26 GMT

    Remember too that michael hlding did resign from sanfor's board sound warning.that is why I love mikey so.

  • Venkatesh on February 20, 2009, 3:06 GMT

    Andy Zaltsman!! That is the funniest piece I have read in a while!! Made my day! I teared up laughing.

  • Anand on February 20, 2009, 2:50 GMT

    It seems that T-20 is in a turmoil. Few days before Stanford mess puked itself all over ECB & WICB, Mr Lalit Modi is not a saint himself. OUtlookindia in funnily names article " Curious case of Lalit Modi" have tried to expose his stuff too. Check it out at http://www.outlookindia.com/archivecontents.asp?fnt=20090216

  • Sreenath on February 20, 2009, 2:38 GMT

    Good work Andy, as much satire as I expected :) The very concept of stanford 20/20 for 20 was balderdash to me. Whoever is against tests, to hell with them- thats cricket for us. But being a cricket player myself at Texas A&M University- I should tell that assumption of "texan" and "Cricket" not going in sync with one another should be untrue, atleast in my case ;)

  • Thom on February 20, 2009, 2:30 GMT

    Andy Zaltzmann's columns are always the high point of my day. I have rarely seen humour and excellent cricket commentary side-by-side so frequently.

  • Paulie on February 20, 2009, 1:13 GMT

    Hilarious! Brilliantly written Andy, great job.

  • Manu on February 19, 2009, 23:40 GMT

    Can't blame the ECB entirely, though. Stanford fooled lots of high-profile folks around the world - people with more resources to do a thorough investment research than a naive cricket board. Teaches us that from now on, every cricket board must arm itself with an investment consulting firm to conduct a thorough investigation of any firm or individual who wants to sponsor a cricket tournament. That'll solve the problem.

  • Andrew on February 19, 2009, 23:23 GMT

    Great joke really that this all happens during the most fantastic Test in Antigua. Cheerio Stanford, welcome back the ARG. Oh, and good riddance North Sound. NEVER again.

  • Kyle on February 19, 2009, 22:39 GMT

    Interesting read. Although i would like to know more about this 'Jesus Christ' fellow. He seems pretty 'in the know'. I think he might be the only bloke who can save the ECB and their adequate cricket team.

  • Robin on February 19, 2009, 22:25 GMT

    Excellent article but you miss one major point. The ECB ran to Stanford and saw him as the saviour from those BCCI chaps..the same chaps that have produced an excellent cricket team and a brilliant product..the IPl !! Im not a big lover of 20/20 but I feel that you should let the businessman of BCCI do their work and England take their percentage..poor cricket team and poor administrators..what a joke??

  • sam on February 19, 2009, 22:25 GMT

    from a windies standpoint, the injection of quick cash and interest in the game (albeit 20/20) was good.. from an ecb and test cricket standpoint.. god only knows

  • Siva KG on February 19, 2009, 21:35 GMT

    Cricket should thank its lucky stars that Allen "the duffers at ECB couldnt even see my bluff" Stanford didnt get on with more than just one farce of a match! Oh btw, I was LMAO with that incisive reasoning of yours on why it was so obvious he was a bluff...Carry on Andy!

  • mands on February 19, 2009, 21:28 GMT

    Shame Clarkey,.....Shame. Chickens, heads, axe....you do the maths.

  • Jamie Dowling on February 19, 2009, 21:14 GMT

    "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" had me laughing so hard I hurt myself :) The Joe Stalin comment at the end was just the icing on the cake. Comically funny and a savage view on the Stanford farce.

  • Shyam on February 19, 2009, 20:27 GMT

    That's the price the ECB has to pay for not heeding to "Prior" warning and continuing to pay "lap service" to a Texan paper billionaire:)

  • Sadie on February 19, 2009, 20:00 GMT

    My thoughts exactly re: Texas and cricket. The two go hand in hand as much as Pieterson and Smith.

    As for denying test cricket. Anyone that does so should be shot.

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  • Sadie on February 19, 2009, 20:00 GMT

    My thoughts exactly re: Texas and cricket. The two go hand in hand as much as Pieterson and Smith.

    As for denying test cricket. Anyone that does so should be shot.

  • Shyam on February 19, 2009, 20:27 GMT

    That's the price the ECB has to pay for not heeding to "Prior" warning and continuing to pay "lap service" to a Texan paper billionaire:)

  • Jamie Dowling on February 19, 2009, 21:14 GMT

    "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" had me laughing so hard I hurt myself :) The Joe Stalin comment at the end was just the icing on the cake. Comically funny and a savage view on the Stanford farce.

  • mands on February 19, 2009, 21:28 GMT

    Shame Clarkey,.....Shame. Chickens, heads, axe....you do the maths.

  • Siva KG on February 19, 2009, 21:35 GMT

    Cricket should thank its lucky stars that Allen "the duffers at ECB couldnt even see my bluff" Stanford didnt get on with more than just one farce of a match! Oh btw, I was LMAO with that incisive reasoning of yours on why it was so obvious he was a bluff...Carry on Andy!

  • sam on February 19, 2009, 22:25 GMT

    from a windies standpoint, the injection of quick cash and interest in the game (albeit 20/20) was good.. from an ecb and test cricket standpoint.. god only knows

  • Robin on February 19, 2009, 22:25 GMT

    Excellent article but you miss one major point. The ECB ran to Stanford and saw him as the saviour from those BCCI chaps..the same chaps that have produced an excellent cricket team and a brilliant product..the IPl !! Im not a big lover of 20/20 but I feel that you should let the businessman of BCCI do their work and England take their percentage..poor cricket team and poor administrators..what a joke??

  • Kyle on February 19, 2009, 22:39 GMT

    Interesting read. Although i would like to know more about this 'Jesus Christ' fellow. He seems pretty 'in the know'. I think he might be the only bloke who can save the ECB and their adequate cricket team.

  • Andrew on February 19, 2009, 23:23 GMT

    Great joke really that this all happens during the most fantastic Test in Antigua. Cheerio Stanford, welcome back the ARG. Oh, and good riddance North Sound. NEVER again.

  • Manu on February 19, 2009, 23:40 GMT

    Can't blame the ECB entirely, though. Stanford fooled lots of high-profile folks around the world - people with more resources to do a thorough investment research than a naive cricket board. Teaches us that from now on, every cricket board must arm itself with an investment consulting firm to conduct a thorough investigation of any firm or individual who wants to sponsor a cricket tournament. That'll solve the problem.