Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa
As the media anger over the sight of Allen Stanford with Emily Prior perched on his knees dies down, there is also a growing tide of thinking that the whole 20/20 for 20 venture is looking increasingly tawdry.
There were more than a few raised eyebrows last June when Stanford’s helicopter landed at Lord’s and he was almost treated as a saviour by fawning ECB executives. The unveiling of US$20 million is hard currency inside the indoor school for many signalled that English cricket had sold out.
Now that the eight-day feast of Stanford’s cash-driven Twenty20 is underway, it has proved too rich for many of those watching it.
In today’s Daily Mail, Paul Newman wrote that “English cricket has clearly jumped into a very uncomfortable bed by so eagerly accepting Stanford's millions and now everyone involved with our game has to lie in it. The ECB may have made sure that their players become very wealthy this week but the price being paid is an expensive one. English cricket is selling its soul.”
According to Newman, those comments have registered with the players, one (unnamed) member of the England squad saying: “If that's what people back home are thinking then we can't get out of here quick enough.”
In the Times on Monday, Simon Barnes described the tournament as “pornography”. He added: “It is not, then, the pursuit of excellence. Nor is it the pursuit of money. Rather, it is the pursuit of squirming. It is a billionaire's malicious joke at the expense of people he never could be, even if he had a billion billion. He will make a group of richly gifted international athletes squirm and grovel before the altars of money.”
In the Sunday Times Simon Wilde also showed he is no fan. “What a vision it is: a toytown stadium, black bats, silver stumps, vulgar amounts of money and a contraction of the game’s skills into the time it takes to consume a jumbo burger, a tub of popcorn and a bucket of Pepsi. Bad taste, just another toxic asset the United States has given the world.”
Steve James in the Guardian would not disagree. “The match is a disgrace at almost every level, and not just because its Texas billionaire backer, Sir Allen Stanford, has spent the past week on a dollar-driven ego trip, parading around his private ground, hogging the limelight and cavorting with the England players' wives. November 1 will be the night cricket is turned into reality TV, where some grisly voyeuristic fare is served up for those of a short attention span. Big Brother has finished: roll up instead to watch the nervous antics of the England cricket team. Who will drop a catch to cost his mates half a million quid?”
Perhaps more surprising, given the vast sums poured into the venture, are the facilities. The pitches have been slow and low, exactly what is not needed for high-scoring, big-hitting matches, and the low-level floodlights, necessary because of the proximity of the ground to the airport, has made catching a lottery, with some of the world’s best fielders left looking like club duffers.
“The cricketing reality is the pitch and outfield mean the games will be dull, dull, dull,” wrote John Ethridge in the Sun. “Certainly the loot available is inversely proportional to the quality of the product, although the ground is pretty.”
It is possible to find those still who are prepared to enthuse. Here’s Nasser Hussain on Emilygate. “It was pretty harmless, to be honest, and the wives must remember that their husbands are potentially earning a fortune by being here and they are in a lovely place having a lovely time in the sunshine. If the man who is putting up all the money wants to give them a quick cuddle for the cameras is that really a big problem?”
It should be remembered, however, that Hussain fronted the ECB/Stanford announcement at Lord’s last summer and is also covering the tournament for Sky … and the broadcasters have invested heavily in their coverage of the event.