West Indies in England 2011 September 22, 2011

Stanford's absence a loss to West Indies - Roberts


Andy Roberts and Curtly Ambrose, the two greatest fast bowlers to emerge from Antigua, believe that the demise of Allen Stanford's cricket empire in the Caribbean has left an irreplaceable void in their own home country, the island which served as a base for his operations for 18 years.

Almost three years have elapsed since the Stanford ground in Antigua played host to one of the most extraordinary nights in the history of Caribbean cricket, when a team led by Chris Gayle beat Kevin Pietersen's England in a contest that was worth US$1 million for every member of the victorious West Indies XI.

Even as Gayle took receipt of the winners' cheque, however, the cracks in Stanford's enterprise were appearing. When England were next in the country, during their Test series in the spring of 2009, his bank was found to be at the centre of what US financial regulators described as a "fraud of shocking magnitude", with queues around the block as investors scrambled desperately to retrieve what was left of their funds.

The financial situation in Antigua has been bleak ever since, because Stanford had been a direct employer of some 430 of the country's 85,000 citizens. But in a wider cultural sense, the loss to West Indies cricket has been every bit as damaging, given how many hopes he had built up through his lucrative inter-island Twenty20 tournament (the first event to capitalise on the extraordinary marketability of the short-form game) and how much glamour his involvement had reintroduced to a sport whose lustre of the 1970s and 80s had been fading.

"His end of his involvement has been a loss to West Indies cricket in terms of the facilities, and the rewards he brought to some of the players," Roberts told ESPNcricinfo. "Stanford is partly responsible for what is happening in world cricket today in terms of where Twenty20 is concerned. If he hadn't put that amount into it, the Indian board wouldn't have put so much money into IPL."

Both Ambrose and Roberts were paid as ambassadors of the Stanford brand - the so-called Stanford "Legends", a group which included their fellow Antiguan greats Sir Viv Richards and Richie Richardson. But even allowing for the personal benefits they enjoyed through their association with Stanford, and regardless of the methods by which it is alleged he made his money, both men were able to recognise the extent to which his largesse had benefited the sport.

"He left a big hole, to be honest," said Ambrose. "The excitement was coming back, the fans were coming out, it was a stepping stone, and you were starting to see a resurgence in West Indies cricket. That was through Stanford. He had the money, he had a plan and it was working. But we all know what happened next."

This week, Stanford's legacy will be on display as a pair of unpopular Twenty20 matches at The Oval, drawn up to fulfil the ECB and WICB's contractual obligations to Sky, and set to be contested by two teams lacking many of their big names through injury, rest, and the competing demands of the Champions League in India. The ever-worsening relationship between the board and WIPA, the players' association, has also been exacerbated by the void created after his funding tap had been turned off.

"Since he left the scene, West Indies cricket has gone back to the way it was, and nothing is happening at the moment," said Ambrose. "It is really, really sad to see what has happened, and the cricket gets worse every day, with the board's impasse with WIPA. If we love cricket the way we say we do, and it was one of the reasons why we got involved [as ambassadors], we'll find a way to bring West Indies cricket back to a certain level."

However, the current situation leaves Roberts despairing of cricket in his region. "[This week's] games are meaningless," he said. "To be honest, I do not think we are getting what we deserve as far as a competitive West Indies team is concerned. Only half of the players are worthy of representing West Indies, and I am speaking my mind as far as that is concerned. I don't know if a lot of West Indians are feeling proud to represent West Indies at the moment. A lot of them are only there for the money, and there are lots of reasons why our cricket is suffering.

"I was a part of the Stanford set-up for a number of years, and the money he put into West Indies cricket, it's a great loss," Roberts added. "I never knew what he did, and as far as I'm concerned it didn't bother me, because what he did had no [apparent] effect on Antiguans and Antigua. But now he's gone, the country has been suffering for two years, because of the amount of people he employed as a single employer."

For many years after his international retirement, Roberts was the groundsman at the Antigua Recreation Ground in the capital St John's. But, by his own admission, it was Stanford's personal ground, equidistant from his bank and the airport in the east of the island that rose to become the country's stand-out venue. With state-of-the-art floodlights, an immaculate outfield, and a renowned on-site restaurant, Sticky Wicket, it was a venue to rival the Getty Ground at Wormsley in terms of high-class private facilities.

These days, the grass is over-grown, the stands are crumbling and it exists as a living testament to the facade that Stanford's empire turned out to be. "It's a shame to look at the ground," said Roberts. "It was one of the best kept grounds in the entire Caribbean. It was small and the facilities were out of this world. But we allowed it to deteriorate to such an extent that it's going to take a lot of money to bring it back to half of what it was before."

In the meantime, the key priority for West Indies is to repay the debts left by Stanford's departure, which includes the prospect of replicating these fixtures every season until the Sky deal runs out. "I hope the ECB can find a way to get these games off a little earlier," said Roberts. "It's meaningless at this time of year."

Andy Roberts and Curtly Ambrose were speaking on behalf of cricket's No. 1 charity, the Lord's Taverners

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Tom on September 24, 2011, 11:37 GMT

    I remember that winning a single Test or a one day against the mighty Windies was considered a great achievement in those days. Lack of talent, motivation and fighting spirit made WI an easier opponent than a more lower rank team like Zimbabwe nowadays.

  • Cricinfouser on September 23, 2011, 21:41 GMT

    Surely WI's problems started long before Stanford? And the decline didn't happen overnight - it was over many years. The West Indies eventually became beatable (I remember England's victory in 2000 after I can't remember how many losses!), and then gradually over 5-6 years became a side you'd expect to beat. I think Stanford was sadly symptomatic of the worst of modern cricket - the shortest possible format, with one massive motivation: money beyond anything that had previously been offered. I think we've seen a little of the same problem with India this summer - short format dominating, big money for the superstars, and no genuine sense of "team", or pride in representing your country, or recognition of the value of hard graft in the toughest form of the game: test cricket. I really hope this changes, for WI and cricket around the world.

  • Tim on September 23, 2011, 15:14 GMT

    West Indies cricket was in a sad state of decline long before Stanford came along. His largesse merely papered over the cracks by making a few elite players at the top of the game extremely rich. That in itself has created more problems of entitlement to riches and resentment within the board itself. The great West Indian teams and players of old were feared the world over due to their agression and passion in representing their country - not for their greed for money. I fully understand that a sportsman's career may be short-lived, but how many millions of dollars does someone need to provide for their family. By comparison with the average wage in the islands, these players will not have to work again, despite the obvious opportunities they will have in coaching or media. Everyone involved in West Indian Cricket, from the Board to every player, has to remind themselves that they are there to secure the futures for those young boys playing on the beaches - the next Curtly or Viv.

  • Derek on September 23, 2011, 13:29 GMT

    For someone who served the WI; its sad to see Andy Roberts physic at 60. For this reason I whole-hearted support the likes of Pollard, Bravo and Gayle for looking after number one. WI cricket is poor at grassroots and equally poor in caring for its legends. Andy looks like a seventy plus year old.

  • Jumoke on September 23, 2011, 11:37 GMT

    @gazelle79 The Stanford 20/20 actually started in 2006, long before the IPL was thought of. That is why it can be said that the IPL investors recognized the viability of a t20 league of that magnitude by seeing what was accomplished in the caribbean. I'm not saying that's where they got the idea because t20 cricket was in existence long before. But the success of the tournament probably helped investors to see that something like that would make sense.

  • Alex on September 23, 2011, 9:59 GMT

    The Stanford era in West Indies cricket was a time of "PLENTY" for the players .The 20/20 style cricket with its" no skill"style brings nothing special to the development of young players .It was based strictly on USA style sports and cared nothing about the the REAL thing ....... TEST CRICKET . Countries are playing 2 Test matches a series , but i am sure you will NEVER see a short series between England and Australia .

  • sunil on September 22, 2011, 15:18 GMT

    This is probably not important , but wasnt the first IPL held sometime in May 2009 , BEFORE Stanford . The effect of Stanford's fall is definitely seen in West Indies and to a certain extent in England , but the rest of the world had already climbed on the T20 bandwagon courtesy IPL . I dont think he made a difference anywhere else .

  • G on September 22, 2011, 13:46 GMT

    I pray for the return of West Indies. I loved watching them play, I just don't get how you can go from producing the games greatest fast bowlers for 3 decades to nothing seemingly overnight.

  • Steve on September 22, 2011, 12:15 GMT

    In a sense, private sponsorship and team performance are tied together. So, to prosper, the players must perform well. Until that happens, WI cricket will continue to languish.

  • Dummy4 on September 22, 2011, 11:05 GMT

    We all hope to see the resurgence of West Indies cricket, but that will only happen if the administrators develop a professional attitude in dealing with the issues to come up for discussion and stop behaving like spoiled children that must always have it their own way... just say.. as a proud West Indian and Guyanese!

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