West Indies September 24, 2011

Who is Allen Stanford?

What will your answer be if your child asks you this question?

Wednesday, 21st September One day, perhaps one day soon, my daughter may come up to me and ask, with the innocent curiosity of the seven-year-old:

“Daddy, why are England playing the West Indies at the wrong end of September in a couple of Twenty20 matches that are entirely without context?”

To which I will obviously reply that it is because of a man called Allen Stanford.

“Daddy, who is Allen Stanford?”

How should I explain? I could say that he was a generous benefactor of undeniably Texan persuasion with a vibrant tan, a manly moustache and a healthy touch of megalomania. I could say that he was a great friend of English cricket who helped us defy the might of the BCCI. Or I could swear blind I’d never heard of the chap.

But I’m not Giles Clarke, so those options are out. I could refer her to the comments of the US regulators who stated that Stanford perpetrated “a fraud of shocking magnitude” (and they know a thing or two about frauds of shocking magnitude, those US regulators.) Or maybe I could tell her what Andy Roberts, all-time great fast bowler, today said of the egregious founder of the Magic Bank of Stanford:

“He had the money, he had a plan and it was working.”

Which is true to an extent. But the money was other people’s and his plan was not to get caught. It was indeed working for quite some time. And then he got caught. England’s legacy is a couple of extra games a year. In the West Indies they are already talking nostalgically about a man who perpetrated a fraud of shocking magnitude. Which is perhaps the saddest part of the whole sorry episode.

Wednesday, 22nd September A few days into the job and Kim Littlejohn’s research is going well. He picked up the 2011-12 Black Cap Sticker Album at Auckland Airport and has been seen regularly popping into John Buchanan’s Newsagent and Philosophical Grocery Store to bulk purchase packets of stickers. So far he has 17 Brendon McCullums and half a dozen Ross Taylors, but he’s missing a Tim Southee and he doesn’t know what Daniel Vettori looks like because his pet hamster chewed that one.

But I wish him well and I wonder whether the experiment could be extended. If the national selection manager doesn’t need to know anything about cricket, is it absolutely necessary that the players do? Have New Zealand been missing a trick by restricting places in their national cricket team to professional cricketers? Surely it’s just a matter of identifying transferable skills. Jugglers in the slips, gymnasts in the covers, javelin throwers for fast bowlers, and golfers for batsmen.

Thursday, 23rd September Well, that was jolly entertaining. The West Indies, in the absence of half a team had sent over some of the members of their inter-island Agricultural XI. Johnson Charles (an excellent take on a rather dull name, like wearing a trilby back to front) had brought his scything blade of thunder and Dwayne Smith his shovel of iron destiny and both swung merrily like drunken farmers at harvest time. Poor Tim Bresnan looked like a volunteer from the audience who’d been invited on stage only to be hit repeatedly over the head with a frying pan.

Bang! Swipe! Crash! Pow! It was like one of those 1960s episodes of Batman, but without the tights. And for the first time ever, I began to wonder whether Australia’s decision to call their own Twenty20 thingy the Big Bash wasn’t just alliterative PR stupidity, but a profound insight. Big. Bash. Doesn’t that say it all? Or have I had one glass too many? But let no one say that Twenty20 is not authentic. Three hundred years ago, long before the Victorians got their hands on our game, this is the cricket Londoners were watching: raw, raucous, chaotic and as subtle as a Dwayne Smith leg-clearing bottom-handed shellacking over midwicket.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England