November 1, 2008

What's the shouting about?

Stanford and his tournament are being reviled left and right, but there seems to be surprisingly little ground for the uproar

Allen Stanford: never claimed to be the saviour of Test cricket © Getty Images

The dollops of peevish invective directed towards Allen Stanford personally and the Super Series generally, reflect the rancour of the establishment at its loss of control over the game of cricket. Some of the gall has been aimed at the England and Wales Cricket Board for agreeing to the conditions of the series, and the ECB has even been chastised for not doing enough "background checks" on Allen Stanford.

What should the further checks have revealed? That Mr Stanford is a bumptious, wealthy man used to getting his way?

It can only be hypocrisy to pretend that the event was meant to be anything other than what it has turned out to be. Stephen Brenkley, writing in the Independent about the announcement of the match in June at Lord's, deemed it an "extremely oddball cricket match", and it seems that that is precisely what it has been trumped up to be by the organisers. They made no claim to be ennobling the game, no pretence of offering a parallel to Test cricket; nor did they attempt to disguise it as anything other than a good-times gig with lots of lucre to ensure worldwide interest.

Stanford didn't try to hide his ignorance of cricket in general. He made it clear that his distinguished board of directors had been retained to provide precisely that kind of expertise and guidance. As far as he was concerned, he was making an investment in a product from which he hoped to collect multiple returns by way of television rights and other tourism-related spinoffs. His big gamble was on opening up the potentially lucrative US market, and looking at the way the series has been designed, it is clear that he has studied the American sporting taste.

So what is the basis of the onslaught of furious Stanford-bashing? That he entered dressing rooms and that he posed for pictures with giggling women? That the lights are low and the pitch flat? A visit to the ground any time prior to the tournament would have allowed an assessment of the conditions. The torrential rains will certainly have affected the nature of the pitch.

If there is one thing that cannot be said honestly of Allen Stanford, it is that he endures sloppiness. It must have galled him like hell to know that on his ground, the pitch was not the best possible in the entire world. It would never have been a case of casualness over preparation. It is just not his nature.

The shrieks about substandard conditions for the English team sound annoyingly petty and unsporting. After the match against Trinidad and Tobago, Kevin Pietersen told Andrew Miller, "It was a good game of cricket." His team had won by a run (but what would have happened if T&T's opener Justin Guillen had not been incorrectly given out?), and it appeared that the closeness of the match brought home the competitiveness of the series to the England squad. "The guys came out and played nicely - hit some sixes, hit some boundaries - and we definitely thought we had [scored] enough," said Pietersen. He did not then complain about lights, cameras or action.

Suddenly, and rather theatrically, the team is now being portrayed as a suffering unit stranded on some nightmare island, while they do their bit for England. Again in the words of Brenkley, "they made it clear that they are desperate to get out of Antigua, which has become a kind of hell in paradise for them this week".

The sanctimonious tone of these statements, the grumbling about the unprofessional conduct surrounding the English players, the innuendos about their expectations that proper English standards would be met, has no resonance, none whatsoever, in the Caribbean.

Everyone knows what touring teams expect of the Caribbean once they drop in. They expect every stereotypical enchantment of the tourist brochure to be theirs for the taking. So the idea of a silently suffering squad bleating to the CEO of the Professional Cricketers' Association about the garden party they're attending in lieu of an international match has more of the air of a team preparing excuses in case they get thrashed.

Let's be honest: what is really eating away at the critics is that the game created by the English, Test cricket, is being whittled away by Twenty20 (also created by the English), yet the centre is not England. Worse, the English had to stoop to accepting a Texan's money to participate in the richest purse ever in the sport.

As Matt Scott pointed out in the Guardian, the ECB embraced Stanford when it found itself on the periphery of the money after "its path to a shareholding in the lucrative Champions Twenty20 League was blocked".

The quick politicking of Mike Soper, the former deputy chairman of the ECB, who lost no time in attacking Giles Clarke for his part in "debasing" the game, simply reveals that nobody at the helm of cricket anywhere in the world is really studying what is happening in the evolution of the game. They are all defending and promoting their own interests.

Let's be honest: what is really eating away at the critics is that the game created by the English, Test cricket, is being whittled away by Twenty20 (also created by the English), yet the centre is not England

"What has happened in the past few days has not only debased the game, it could kill it too. I'm frightened," said Soper, basing his terror on a couple of episodes, without realising that what happened over the last few days (and what did, really?) has happened to various degrees in cricket over its long history. Television merely manufactures the scandals that have always been present.

With hindsight Soper complained that, "When Kerry Packer came along 30 years ago the integrity of cricket was retained, but there will be no spirit of the game in Antigua on Saturday night. It will be a winners-take-all freak show."

"What is going on is demeaning and undermining the game," says Soper, but which game is he talking about? There is something that needs to be taken into account in all these dramatic analyses of the beastliness of Twenty20 versus the refined nature of Tests.

Test cricket, as much as I love it, is tussling for space, and perhaps its life, in a world that is increasingly enveloped in a different speed, ethos and dimension. The future of cricket has nothing to do with the rightness or wrongness of either version of the game. It has everything to do with which one is more relevant to its times.

Stanford, businessman that he is, senses which version will dominate and has strategically located himself to reap the rewards. He never promised to resuscitate Test cricket, and indeed, it is foolhardy to relegate the fate of a cultural asset to any one entity. The shrill and unseemly tone of the mainly English commentary on this tournament suggests that they see the event within that context - as an attack on empire. But there is something below the surface that jars in the mind of those who were once colonised.

It comes across in the way it did to Sir Learie Constantine, who wrote in his 1954 book, Colour Bar, about being invited to an English function filled with the upper crust. He overheard one lady say to another as they spotted him and his wife: "I see they've let the jungle in."

Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance journalist based in Trinidad

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Benn on November 3, 2008, 16:35 GMT

    Clearly, the ECB entered into the agreement hoping that this would put an end to their players wanting to opt into the IPL. They made the glaring assumption that, given West Indies' current standing in international cricket, a win would be simple. Clearly, the Superstars didn't read the script as they were amazingly professional in contrast to England's amateurishness. As an Englishman, it was an embarassment to watch.

    What chance the WICB taking note from the preparations made by the Superstars in the build up to the series? What chance the WICB LEARNING from an incredible display by a number of very green talents and trying to keep this squad together for future tournaments at the expense of some of the more arrogant WI players? What chance the WICB talking to the Stanford Legends and using their inestimable knowledge for the greater good of West Indies cricket?

    A Texan interloper managed to find success - West Indies cricket can be that again and none too soon.

  • Narayanappa on November 3, 2008, 6:26 GMT

    It is the same as writing Vs use of computer- new Vs old. Who would protect writing's sanctity to ignore acquisition of computer skills. Each will have its place and time, and after all we have to evolve. We loved Viv, Dean Jones, Kris Srikant and others for their arrogant approach, and we find more of them in 50 over matches (I mean not as long, but as long as it lasts. Now 20-20 will give us more of them who remind of the greats who have played Tests- so far and few between. Perhaps we will never see Viv again, but we can see a Fletcher or a Yuvraj tonking the ball around for a over or two to remind us what batting should be really like. Love 20-20

    an old Test cricket fan

  • Patrick on November 2, 2008, 14:25 GMT

    Let's look at the positives, to coin a phrase.

    1)If this event turns back the Caribbean talent drain to other mainly American sports and rekindles the fire in Caribbean cricket missing these last 10 years;

    2)If this event shows how to run an event to capture the public's interest in exactly the way the 2007 Cricket World Cup totally failed to do so;

    then it has delivered a great service to world cricket.

    It is hard to believe a tournament run by Sir Allen Stanford would ever end in the farcical way the 2007 World Cup did (not that many of us were still watching by then).

    He has provided a lot for the cricketing world to learn from and those who pose as progressives such as Bob Willis need to make their minds up quickly or show their true colours by fleeing back to the Lords Long Room and locking the doors behind them.

  • Stanton on November 2, 2008, 13:46 GMT

    Well said Vaneisa. So many whiners (obviously English and "intelectually" either under the age of 5 or over 95) who have responded to this column are so blantantly missing the point. And if anyone is to blame, it is the ECB for having eyes bigger than their checkbooks. Background checks I ask you.If the ECB was so worried about preserving the dignity of English cricket, why did they aggree to send their team to the Carribean in the first place? Any likeminded person in charge of a professional outfit would never send his players sowhere that he does not know of well? England were, to put it bluntly, GREEDY!! And I for one am glad that the Stanford superstars won it. They deserved it because they worked for it. The English team, as they normally do when they leave their little island, whine about how bad things are outside England, when in fact they are useless outside England! And has the ECB offered the WI assitance? No? So how can people moan about Stanford offering his help?

  • govin on November 2, 2008, 8:15 GMT

    an excellent piece by vaneisa save for, as others have note, the unnecessary comments about race and empire. whether one likes 20/20 or not, this is a question of having to move with the times and appeal to a different type of audience if cricket (of any type) is to retain an international presence. the ECB not only embraced the format, but also the tournament (and indeed physically embraced stanford himself when he landed at lord's) so let's not pretend otherwise or that there's a moral high ground here. moreover, the ECB and others have already - to use soper's own word - 'debased' the game in allowing coloured attire, white balls, and floodlit matches for one-dayers. that is, if trying to attract tv audiences and bring more people and money into the game of cricket as a whole is seen as 'debasing' it. for in essence, it's this - even if only to turn a profit for his business ventures (a fact which he has in no way sought to hide) - that the stanford approach is about.

  • James on November 2, 2008, 0:35 GMT

    Like MCIndgledon and I agree with Baksh's point, mind you, that the suprise that the tournament has been such a shambles is absurd - all along Stanford has made it clear that he's not a cricket fan and he wants a product to sell to the American market. I wish him the best of luck with that. Like our intrepid journo, a lot of people seem to think that merely because someone is rich each and every one of their actions must be touched with genius.

    Anyway, it's all over now. The West Indians are a lot richer then they were yesterday, Stanford is a lot more famous than he was yesterday, and the Baksh and the board's armchair pundits can be relieved that the sun has finally set on the British Empire. Let's hope it never happens again.

  • Peter on November 1, 2008, 22:50 GMT

    People are missing the point that Baksh is making. There is no "hypocrisy" with her article. She clearly states at one point that she still loves test cricket more. The point is that the hue and cry from across the pond is ridiculous and unwarranted. Three months ago during the Olympics, articles were popping up left and right on this site about how 20/20 is needed to spread the game to China and the USA, among other untapped markets with potential, and that the aim should be to get 20/20 into the Olympics for the 2020 Summer Games. Along comes an event in which one of the stated goals by the organizer is to market it to Americans, to show them the game is fun, exciting, and most of all, not as difficult and complex as everyone makes it out to be to scare them off. The NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB have all started playing games overseas in an attempt to gain fans around the world. Stanford may want to "Americanize" cricket with this event. That should be seen as a good thing, not apocalyptic.

  • Mark on November 1, 2008, 21:08 GMT

    Well written article Vanessa, it is good to know that there is more intelligent fairminded balanced sports journalism coming out of the caribbean than out of England these days. I like test cricket. However the reality is which some of the English sports writers seem to have missed is that Test cricket has been struggling to survive in changing global marketplace for nearly 50 years now. When interest in Test Cricket was declining in England and Australia in the 1960s. Limited overs cricket was introduced. It brought the crowds back in England and Australia as well as garaunteeing the survival of test cricket. What we seeing again in a changing world is a new direction 20/20. When cricket in Aus was at a low ebb a businessman came along and revived it, his name kerry packer and brought exciting new innovations to cricket. Similarly Stanford will do the same in the Caribbean in the process HOPEFULLY taking the West indies where it should be at the top of the cricket tree.

  • Andrew on November 1, 2008, 20:27 GMT

    I'd like thank and to whole heartedly second the views of timedout for his eminently sane response to Vaneisa Baksh's article. As a phlegmatic, cricket loving, Englishman I have managed to hit middle age without ever having worn a pith helmet, fixed a bayonet & invaded/colonised another country. Given that the British Empire is long dead, buried and mostly forgotten in the U.K. this isn't surprising. For the record: cricket is a wonderfully fascinating entertainment. Savour a good game (whatever the format), replay the highlights in your mind's eye, chat with friends about it but then put it to bed and get on with enjoying your life. It's that simple. And to all xenophobes of all nationalities: you're a little bit thick, aren't you?

  • Kieran on November 1, 2008, 19:32 GMT

    The mention of colonialism and racism towards the end of this article obscures and devalues many of the cogent and perceptives points made before. For heavens sake, you sound like Robert Mugabe attributing every legitimate criticism from a person who happens to be of British birth to a kind of post colonial arrogance or a desire to continue to subjugate any section of the former empire we can in whatever small way possible. When you verbally trash a country that I can assure you embraces its contemporary status as a crowded little island with little of its historic power remaining; and when you fail to do people the courtesy of taking their well meaning views at face value without attributing more sinister motives, you fall short of the high standards of journalism to which you should aspire.

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