Plenty of reasons to smile
Sir Allen Stanford said earlier this week that judgement on his tournament should be reserved until the millions had been divvied out, and the bigger picture had come fully into focus. By the end of a seismic night in Antigua, the point of his enterprise had become as chandelier-clear as the breathtaking fireworks that erupted over the ground, as eleven West Indian cricketers were welcomed, blinking and incredulous, into a world in which they need never to struggle again.
"This is better than anything in the world, I'll tell you straight up," said the Superstars captain, Chris Gayle. "We created history tonight. If anyone said to me that one game would bring so much pressure I'd have said it was a lie. But this is the most pressure I have ever felt, coming into this game. I'm just grateful for the way my family brought me up. My back is broad. I can handle the pressure."
But for some alarming running between the wickets in the early part of the Superstars run-chase, and the odd over-ambitious swipe across the line, you would never have known the extent of Gayle's anxieties. His 33-ball half-century dominated an extraordinary contest to such an extent that the pressure, unbelievably, had evaporated long before the halfway mark of the innings. As the Superstars linked arms on the boundary's edge, with their benefactor right in the thick of things as ever, their wives were seen weeping in the stands, overcome with the realisation that their dreams were about to come true.
"I'm just happy and grateful it's come to an end," said Gayle. "I'll be taking a couple of days to myself, definitely, because I've been really, really stressed out. The thing is with me, no one can tell when I'm under pressure because I don't show emotion much. If something's wrong you don't know, but that's just the person I am. Sometimes I keep so many things inside - these days I'm a bit more outspoken, I'm getting there somehow."
The notion of Gayle, the coolest cat in the cricketing jungle, expelling so much as a bead of sweat comes as a shock, but his week has encompassed far more than just cricket. He missed the first warm-up against Trinidad after his father and brother were both taken ill - the latter with a heart condition - and has been plagued all weeks by nefarious rumours about his private life. All those woes were compounded by the shooter he received against Middlesex on Thursday. A second-ball duck was no way to prepare for a contest such as this.
But now he has emerged smiling onto the other side. After his flippant vow to "spend it, man" if he won the jackpot, Gayle revealed that his first priority would be to "hook up my brother to a doctor to fix his heart." He added: "This experience will definitely help me as a person as well. I'm really, really happy to be in this situation, and gain more knowledge, and get to know people more. This is the best thing in the world."
England, to their credit, were magnanimous to a fault in defeat, with Kevin Pietersen positively beaming as he reflected on the social justice that had been meted out on his watch. "At the end of the day you look at the happy faces of those boys who have nothing, it brings a smile to my face to see how happy they are," he said. "I'm a human being, and these guys are fellow professionals. It is so great to see a guy fall over on his back crying, with a million dollars in his bank account."
|We created history tonight. If anyone said to me that one game would bring so much pressure I'd have said it was a lie. But this is the most pressure I have ever felt, coming into this gameChris Gayle, Stanford Superstars captain|
Pietersen conceded that England had never really bought into the whole winner-takes-all notion, having allowed themselves to be distracted by off-the-field "nonsense". But the Superstars never once suffered from the conflicting attitudes that dogged the visitors, and somehow, given the history of the Caribbean and England's central role therein, it was utterly fitting that the bounty on offer on this occasion was not pillaged by ungrateful invaders and carted back across the seas.
England probably never got quite that deep during the self-examinations that they have been putting themselves through this week, but perhaps they will now embark on their tour of India with a greater appreciation for the blessings their talents and nationality have granted them. Pietersen perhaps took it a step too far when he informed Gayle before the toss that "he didn't need the money" - an exchange that Gayle himself brought up after the game ("Who doesn't want a million, you got to be crazy!") - but his point was well-meant if clumsily expressed.
Money cannot buy happiness - it merely faciliates a standard of living that makes happiness in the long term more probable. The England team that routed South Africa in the summer ODIs was undoubtedly a happier mob than the rag-bag outfit that let a million dollars go up in smoke before their eyes in Antigua. But I'll bet, despite the inevitable pangs of disappointment, they sleep soundly in their beds tonight. One team wanted the riches, but the other team needed them. And gloriously, it was the desire that made the difference.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo