Sticky Wicket becomes a wearing track
Fellow inmates beat him up in jail, creditors seek to regain their investments, and the ECB quietly expunges him and his wretched helicopter from any annals and annuals at Lord's. Yet there is one significant individual who claims he should return to his own ground in Antigua. Allen Stanford, according to his general manager, will always be welcomed back at the Sticky Wicket.
The nomenclature of the restaurant that dominates the once manicured ground on which England played out their $20million "20/20 for 20" challenge match in 2008 is ironically appropriate. Stanford has been on a sticky wicket ever since. There are those in Antigua who will defend him - most notably Sir Viv Richards - but few who feel he will ever return. One who does is Alex Browne, his general manager.
The entrance sign adjacent to the airport still pronounces that this is the Stanford Cricket Ground. The reality is that it has been seized by the government and leased to a consortium of Antiguans, who, even though there is nothing happening in the middle, employ Browne to keep Sticky Wicket, burgers and all, ticking over. And to prepare the venue for its future use: inter-island football.
The SCG, as it also ironically known, inevitably has a tired appearance after the property was seized in the wake of Stanford's arrest in 2009, not least because of non-payment of bills. No cricket has been played there since then and the immaculate outfield of old is now more akin to an undulating public park. The clock in the stand where Stanford once back-slapped Richards and Sir Everton Weekes, another of his so-called legends, depicts the wrong hour, as if time has not moved on since his departure. And what would the brash Texan make of Virgin Atlantic using Sticky Wicket as a departure lounge?
Yet the floodlights and electronic scoreboard still work. The seats on which Stanford bounced England WAGs up and down on his knee are still in place. So, too, are the expensive wines in his other restaurant, The Pavilion, which has not reopened, the head chef having been scattered to the four winds along with the helicopter and the crate of fake dollar notes.
Anyone who enters Sticky Wicket, which was closed for seven months, will still espy photographs of Stanford, Richards (who occasionally eats there) and the other legends, even the saintly Wes Hall. There are still bats on display in the cabinet in the bar. One Antiguan came in recently and asked for a "bankruptcy burger". Another, who was too late in withdrawing his savings from Stanford International Bank, was given a consoling glass of rum by Browne. "At least I've got something back," he told him. No-one has tried to smash the place down, although eight television sets were stolen.
For Richards, as with another of the legends, Sir Garry Sobers, Stanford will remain innocent until proven guilty. The Caribbean Twenty20 tournament last month, involving Hampshire and Somerset, probably would have been played at Stanford's ground rather than the Viv Richards Stadium had it been in proper condition, but there is no sense of competitiveness from Antigua's greatest cricketer, only sympathy. "I have had no contact at all with him," he said. "But one thing I think you can say is that he did a lot of good for the island."
The SCG will be reseeded and it is hoped cricket will be played again come August. Before that, it will be a home for inter-island Under-17 qualifying football fixtures and Antigua Barracuders F.C. Are they any good? "They're coming," said Browne. There is talk about bringing Twenty20 cricket back to the ground, but it remains just that, talk. Music festivals are more probable events. "Obviously there is a stigma attached to the name," said Browne. "So I now call Sticky Wicket 'Second Innings'. The first innings was declared when Stanford left."
Browne started working for Stanford in 2004 and would have him back tomorrow. "I don't really foresee that happening, as he faces 21 charges, but he is the best boss I have ever had. He was demanding, set high standards and made the working environment very comfortable." His girlfriend, Andrea Stoelker, whom he had a spat with on the night of the challenge match, is still in talks with the government. She has a police guard, is attractive and could have walked away, so she is one brave woman. Viv Richards was shocked when he was arrested.
"Andrea's meetings are interminable but she goes back and forth to Texas to see Allen," added Browne. "He has quite a few other assets on the island and a law was passed in parliament stating that the receivers had to deal with the government. Curtly Ambrose bought one of his houses, in Cedar Valley, by a golf course. There was no time for Allen to say farewell and he is paranoid about making any communication with us, but he did pass on a message that he would return for another innings if he could."
Sir Viv Richards was speaking in his capacity as ambassador for the Antigua Tourist Board, promoting Blue Waters Hotel www. bluewaters.net and Carlisle Bay Hotel www.elegant resorts.co.uk