Lord’s leaping as Allen Stanford confirms jackpot

‘The only thing I like about rich people is their money,’ Lady Astor said, and for the moment the ECB agrees. Not long ago, it would have sprinted across the road to avoid a man such as Allen Stanford, who is rich, American and a self-confessed hater of Test cricket. Yesterday at Lord’s, the home of cricket, the governing body embraced him. The reasons? Well, there were 147.5 million of them.

It was confirmed yesterday that England and a Stanford All-Stars XI will play five Twenty20 matches for $20 million (about £10 million) each over the next five years. As revealed exclusively in The Times yesterday, the split will be $11 million for the winning players, $1 million for the remaining squad players and $1 million for the management team. The $7 million that remains will be shared between the ECB and the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). A further $47.5 million has been pledged by Stanford for five annual quadrangular Twenty20 tournaments, which will be announced in the next few days.

As divorce lawyers would confirm, once huge sums of money are involved, things tend to get nasty. Despite the manoeuvrings of the Test specialists, those not involved in Antigua will get nothing. The Times can also reveal that serious pressure was brought to bear on the England players on the eve of the third Test against New Zealand at Trent Bridge to sign off the deal, amid acrimonious talks between the ECB and the Professional Cricketers’ Association, which was representing the players.

An e-mail from David Collier, the chief executive of the ECB, was sent to the players’ representatives the day before the Test holding the players responsible if the deal did not go ahead. In the end the players relented, giving away £1 million in image rights. Even so, as late as 9.45pm on Monday [9 June] the agreement was under threat after the WICB attempted to change its terms at the last minute.

So when Stanford’s helicopter landed on the Nursery ground shortly after lunchtime yesterday, it was the culmination of an idea, the negotiations for which had long been in existence, but whose time had come. Lord’s, perhaps, had not hosted anything like it. Stanford emerged, looked out over the historic surroundings and waved, George W. Bush-style, to the assembled onlookers, including ECB officials, who had gathered in force. Descending the steps, Stanford did what politicians in the United States do when on stage, pointing and smiling, as if to fool people that they have genuine friends in the crowd.                For the moment, the ECB is the best friend he will have. The key players, Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, and Collier, waited at the foot of the steps in obeisance, their hair buffeted by the helicopter’s blades. Then there were handshakes all round and even a billionaire’s arm around the shoulder for Collier. Rarely have such levels of fawning been seen.             Then it was off into the Nursery Pavilion for the press conference. It was decked out in black, with the logo ‘Twenty20 for 20’ emblazoned on the screen at the front of the stage. Various aphorisms had been daubed on the walls to chime with the idea that the winners would receive almost all and the losers nothing. Rudyard Kipling was there (‘If you can make one heap of all your winnings and risk it all on one turn of the pitch-and-toss’), as was the South African proverb ‘no pressure, no diamonds’.

Stanford spoke of his desire to see West Indies rise from the bottom of world cricket to the top again, of the ECB’s first-class management team and how boring Test cricket was. Clarke, Collier and the gathered legends of the game – Sir Ian Botham, Sir Viv Richards, Curtly Ambrose, Desmond Haynes, Sir Everton Weekes and Sir Garry Sobers – and Peter Moores, the England head coach, nodded in agreement (except for the last bit, of course).              Then, as the pièce de résistance, a black box containing $20 million was wheeled on to the stage and the legends posed in front of it, staring longingly as if therein lay the secret of everlasting life.                 In a beautiful moment, which summed up the contrasting worlds that collided yesterday afternoon, Stanford came on to the stage shortly before the press conference. He waved and smiled and was greeted with an unaccustomed silence. As he turned to go backstage, an ECB official hurried over and, in a timid, frigid kind of English way, stuck out a hand. Stanford looked at the hand for a moment and then gave the startled young lad a bear hug. There is a new man in town, and, as they say in the States, a whole new ball game.