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November 1, 2008
The Stanford Superstars stormed to a 10-wicket win, and with it the US$20 million bounty, thumping England with more than seven overs to spare after bowling them out for 99. In any Twenty20 match this would have been a dominant display, but given the unique prize on offer it was a stunning performance from the 'home' side, as they were cheered on by a packed Independence Day crowd. It won't go down in the official records, but the Superstars won't care. England are probably very grateful.
Chris Gayle, with a 33-ball half-century, and Andre Fletcher capped the evening with a thrilling display of strokes. When Gayle launched Steve Harmison's third over for 22, the Superstars had already overtaken England's meagre tally of seven boundaries. After a week that has rarely been dominated by on-field activities, the Superstars rose above all those other concerns - which, tellingly, haven't really involved them - and produced a million-dollar display. It began with the bowlers, Jerome Taylor taking two in one over followed by a vital brace for Darren Sammy and three for Sulieman Benn, while the fielding was almost faultless as England crashed to their lowest Twenty20 total.
Allen Stanford has been ridiculed for his less-than-traditional approach to the game and his lack of interest in Test cricket, but he believes this is a way of reviving the game in the Caribbean. The dancing, jumping, conch-shell blowing crowd that was witnessed here suggests he could be onto something after all. Importantly, too, the man kept himself more in the background and let the cricket take center stage, although couldn't resist sprinting onto the field when his team crossed the winning line. No one can blame him for that.
Of course, the joyous atmosphere owed much to the performance of the West Indian stars on show. Caribbean cricket is looking for a few heroes and, in whatever guise you want to call them, tonight they had 11. Maybe that's the key. From all angles, the Superstars always appeared to have more to play for than England. This victory really is a life-changing moment for many of them.
Often in the manic world of Twenty20 the captain's role can be forgotten, but Gayle led superbly before his turbo-charged display with the bat having survived a rapid opening over from Harmison. He sealed the victory by crashing Andrew Flintoff over deep midwicket for his fifth six. When asked what he would do with the money before the match Gayle, typically, said "spend it, man." All that time spent at a six-week training camp has paid off - in every sense. There will be no early curfew tonight.
Samit Patel top scored for England with 22 - adding the highest stand, 29, with Stuart Broad - but all those numbers do is sum up the hopeless position. There has been a sense that their mindset hasn't been right all week and tonight it all fell apart with the grand prize on offer. In all the previous matches spin played a key role, however this time Gayle went with his pace and seam bowlers.
After a slightly nervous start by the Superstars their jitters were settled by a superb over from Taylor, which removed Ian Bell and Matt Prior. Sammy, who surprisingly bowled the first over, returned with dramatic results. Owais Shah top-edged a slower ball which was brilliantly caught by Dave Mohammed as he peddled back from midwicket and collided with deep square-leg. Kevin Pietersen became frustrated by a succession of dot balls and tried to sweep the medium pace of Sammy only to lose his leg stump. Sammy collapsed on his back in celebration and the dollar signs were getting larger for the Superstars.
Spin finally appeared in the 11th over, and the Superstars dominance was highlighted when there was a slip in place for Flintoff. The Superstars' catching again came to the fore when Ramnaresh Sarwan plucked one out at deep square-leg to remove Paul Collingwood. The vibrant venue buzzed with every dismissal and each batsman walked back not knowing what had hit him.
On the day, though, the Superstars were too good as they well and truly lived up their team name. Some of the players are not household names yet, the likes of Fletcher and Kieron Pollard, but this success could be the springboard they need. If they are able to build of Stanford's cash injection and business eye for Twenty20 then transfer it into all forms of the game, then the benefits could be seen for years to come.
But that is looking a long way ahead. Tonight was about one match and one prize. The Superstars claimed it, while England left with nothing and so ends an extraordinary week for cricket. Despite the misgivings about certain aspects of the event this is a five-year deal, so barring a major about-turn it will happen again next year. Another match, another $US20million. England will be keen to make a contest of it.
Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge