The disgraced billionaire Allen Stanford might be languishing, ill and friendless, in an American jail, but he continues to haunt English cricket. In an embarrassing admission yesterday, the England and Wales Cricket Board confirmed that they are trying to extend the international season, with two Twenty20 matches against West Indies.
If the fixtures go ahead as intended, they will be played in late September at venues yet to be agreed. Such late additions to a programme that is already too crowded are being made in order to ensure that the ECB fulfil the obligations of their broadcasting agreement with Sky.
When the rights were sold three years ago, the package included an agreement with Stanford (pictured) for a four-team Twenty20 tournament in England each summer, in addition to the so-called Twenty20 for Twenty Million Dollars, in the Caribbean each autumn. The arrangement collapsed after one of the big-money matches – which England lost – when Stanford was arraigned on fraud charges and remanded in custody in the US.
His case is due for hearing in September, if he is declared fit to stand trial. He is also reported to be suffering from drug addiction. The latest development is a grotesque reminder of the folly of the ECB's liaison with Stanford. It will be especially uncomfortable for the organisation's chairman, Giles Clarke, and chief executive, David Collier. They survived the fallout from the initial agreement and were not exactly keen for the latest developments to be made public. Only after a story was leaked to the Daily Telegraph did they grudgingly concede what was happening. Even then they declined to issue an official statement.
The issue is that Sky, having paid for a certain amount of cricket, want either the matches or a refund. From an overall deal worth £260 million it is estimated the Stanford T20s were earmarked at £7m. The ECB are reluctant to return any cash, having budgeted for every last penny, and are thus desperately trying to arrange two matches after the season is officially done and dusted, on 17 September.
England's players will be reluctant to take part after a heavy summer and the idea of arranging fixtures at such notice is laughable. There is a certain irony that West Indies, part of the initial deal, should be the opponents. They are the only opposition available.