ICC snub for Stanford could actually benefit Windies cricket July 16, 2007

Choosing farming over fast food

Fazeer Mohammed

By investing the big bucks in first-class cricket, Allen Stanford could really revive West Indies cricket © Joseph Jones
In the wake of concerns being expressed by the ICC over his proposed multi-million dollar Twenty20 International Super Series next June, Allen Stanford suggested last week that he has an alternative to channel his US$20 million should the showpiece tournament be stumped by the authorities.

That plan, as he explained, was to establish a fully professional regional competition featuring 21 teams. Given that his direct investments in the game so far have focused on the new popular hybrid of one-day cricket, I suppose the Antigua-based Texan billionaire was thinking in terms of broadening the Stanford Twenty20 beyond the limited scope of the one-month tournament that is scheduled to have its second edition early next year.

However, in the context of what West Indies cricket really needs to get back on a sound footing in the longer, traditional form of the game - a form that is still considered by the vast majority of players and fans as the true standard of cricketing excellence - wouldn't it be more beneficial in the long term for Stanford to pump his millions into the regional first-class competition, if, as he has stated many times, his primary aim is to contribute to the revival of the West Indies as a world power?

There are a number of challenges to be overcome if such a proposal is to ever become a reality, not least the apparent reluctance of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) to be seen as relinquishing control to a Kerry Packer-type tycoon. Yet their very existence is supposed to be to ensure both the prosperity and viability of the Caribbean game, two fundamental objectives in which they have failed miserably over the past decade (it has taken the revenues of the World Cup to pull them out of a deep financial hole), so you would think that the big men in those positions of influence would be prepared to sacrifice their parochial interests if a workable relationship could be established with the investment banker.

Some may want to suggest that the success of the regional side in the Twenty20 matches and ODIs at the end of the tour of England and Ireland indicates that the team is well on the way to turning things around. Hopefully, that is not the view of anyone in any critical position at the WICB, for everyone knows only too well that as much as we are capable of beating the world in the abbreviated versions, our performances in Test cricket continue to be abysmal.

Being a man who has made his fortune through wise investments, Stanford should certainly appreciate that supporting first-class cricket, as dull and unattractive as it is when compared to the calculated vupping of Twenty20, will not bring immediate returns, but through perseverance, consistency and an insistence on the very highest standards, can eventually reap dividends at the top level.

It really takes a certain amount of vision and appreciation of the inherent value of the longer form of the game for any business enterprise to want to associate with first-class cricket. Everywhere in the world, from England to Australia to the cricket-crazy environment of the Indian sub-continent, first-class matches are played day after day, year after year to a mere scattering of spectators. Even in the halcyon days of West Indies cricket in the 1970s and 1980s, Shell Shield matches struggled to attract decent crowds, while the prospect of seeing Andy Roberts bowling to Viv Richards wasn't enough of an attraction to fill English county grounds at Hampshire or Somerset when these great men were in their prime.

Yet despite being associated with long periods of boredom in empty stadiums, private companies have been persuaded to identify with first-class cricket, not so much on the basis of the visibility of their brand to a massive audience, but as a true supporter of the game by ensuring the viability of a level of competition that essentially determines how strong a country will be in Test cricket.

And that's why Stanford, his advisory board of 14 outstanding former West Indies cricketers and officials of the WICB should seriously consider working out an arrangement that will essentially guarantee the viability of first-class cricket in the region for many years to come. As with anything else these days, it won't be a case of money for nothing, as everyone - administrators, team officials and players - must be held to a higher standard if the remuneration is greater.

Of course, this could very well prove to be easier said than done, especially as Stanford himself seems more inclined towards the instant gratification, gimmickry and excitable crowds of Twenty20 to ensure that his name, and therefore his associated business interests, becomes increasingly identifiable to a large segment of the Caribbean populace.

But just think about the two options: a one-week festival of Twenty20 action featuring the very best teams and players in the world, all straining every sinew for the US$20 million jackpot, or a properly structured, well-financed regional first-class competition for at least the next ten years.

It's like choosing between fast food and farming. One looks good but is of little value, while the other is tedious and unattractive but ultimately much more rewarding.

Stanford has chosen already, however it would be encouraging to think he can be persuaded to plant the cricketing land instead of ordering another burger and fries.