ECB under fire as players go cold on Stanford

The ECB is under increasing fire as its five-year deal with Allen Stanford comes under the media spotlight amid calls for the contract to be reviewed and reports that the England players are rapidly going off the whole scheme.
On Wednesday, what started as rumbling criticism over Stanford's conduct on Monday became something altogether more serious as the day wore on. By late afternoon England's players were consulting with their union, the Professional Cricketers' Association, over the whole event. "I've spoken to a number of the players and there are real and significant concerns about this whole thing," PCA chief executive Sean Morris told the Mirror. "We had reservations from the beginning and everything we were worried about appears to be happening."

The England board's position was also shifting. "I'm hearing there are serious concerns from the ECB at the manner in which the tournament has been staged," said BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew said late on Wednesday. "There are lessons to be learned for us all from the events of this week," an ECB spokesman admitted. "That was always going to be the case because it is new territory for all of us, the ECB and Sir Allen. With four years of the agreement still to run there may be things we can do differently."

Senior ECB officials, who almost bent over backwards to welcome Stanford and his millions at Lord's last summer, were also under fire with calls for them to stand down after failing to undertake adequate checks on Stanford. Rod Bransgrove, Hampshire's chairman, told the Daily Telegraph that the position of Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, was in doubt. "I asked the ECB to do a lot more checking on Stanford and this competition. We made it very clear we that we should not enter into this agreement without proper checks but he [Clarke] had already done the deal. The board should resign collectively".

The ECB and Stanford agreed on an unprecedented US$100 million deal in the summer, spread over five years, but the inaugural competition this week in Antigua has attracted mounting criticism in England.

The flack really started to fly on Monday when Stanford was pictured with Matt Prior's wife on his knee and with his arms around two other girlfriends of members of the England team during a match the night before. It provoked a strong reaction from parts of the media, and in addition, one England player reportedly said: "If that was my wife he'd put on his lap I would have wanted to punch him".

Last night's planned cocktail party with the teams was cancelled at short notice, with officials rather unconvincingly claiming there were "logistical problems over a venue". One journalist was unconvinced. "As if Stanford would ever have trouble in securing a venue for anything in Antigua," he noted. "He owns most of them."

Additionally, the pitch - which was rolled for more than 40 hours prior to the tournament - has lacked pace and carry, restricting bowlers' confidence to pitch it up while hampering batsmen's strokeplay.

Stanford, who owns the ground where the matches are being held, also has access to the players' dressing rooms, which has helped cultivate an uneasy feeling among the teams. With Saturday's US$20 million match approaching, even Kevin Pietersen is feeling the pinch. "The longer this week goes on and the more people make of it, the more you just want to get it over with really," he said. "You always want to win a fixture for England but what will be, will be. I'm not too fussed."
Pietersen's team-mate, Ian Bell, offered similar sentiments while expressing concern at the timing of the event. "In a way, this week probably has come a little bit at the wrong time before we go and play a really good team in India," he told the BBC. "Momentum is something we have been building over the last two months, and with the Ashes around the corner next year we want to build on that and stay on the path that we have been going on under KP.

"We need to put in some hard yards there when we get to India and hopefully this week is not going to distract anyone from doing that."