ECB in the dark over Stanford reports

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The Independent Online

The England and Wales Cricket Board insisted today they were "unaware" of reports suggesting Texan Billionaire Sir Allen Stanford was set to end his five-year deal with English cricket.

Reports in today's Daily Mail suggested Stanford was to axe his multi-million dollar deal, which was only signed last summer following negotiations with ECB chairman Giles Clarke, having decided to end his involvement with Twenty20 cricket in West Indies.

They claim Stanford was set to withdraw having already lost US 40million on the venture, comprising 20million to the victorious Super Stars team and 20million in television and sponsorship deals connected to the annual showdown between his side and England.

Stanford was also expected to bankroll the proposed England Premier League Twenty20 tournament, which is due to start in 2009 and feature his All Stars team as one of two overseas sides, while there was also expected to be an annual four-team Twenty20 tournament at Lord's.

Clarke is currently with the England team preparing for the second Test against India at Mohali, but is yet to be informed of the developments.

"We are unaware of the alleged developments," claimed an ECB spokesman. "One of the problems we have is that we are five and a half hours ahead of London, who in turn are five hours ahead of America so we are going to have to juggle time zones."

Stanford is believed to have already called his eight Legends, which include Sir Viv Richards, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, into the office in Antigua to tell them their contracts - thought to be worth 10,000 a month - were being terminated.

The end of his high-profile relationship with West Indies cricket, which has plunged vast funds into the Board's coffers in an attempt to lift their flagging fortunes, will also be a costly blow to them.

Both the West Indies and England Boards were due to receive 3.5million a year for the Stanford Super Series while each player in the winning side also received 1million.

A further 1million was shared between the backroom staff of the winning side while 1million was given the reserves of the winning side, which resulted in England receiving nothing for this year's event after being hammered by 10 wickets in October.

If Stanford withdraws his backing from the annual showdown - as seems increasingly likely now he has terminated his involvement with West Indies cricket - it will also represent a major blow to English cricket.

They are expected to lose £10million funding from Sport England following the success of their Chance to Shine grass-roots programme for cricket while team sponsors Vodafone have already announced they will end their £4million backing in January 2010.

England's players were unhappy with the concept of the million-dollar match from the start and were openly critical of its organisation, notably with the way Stanford had open access to their dressing room.

There were also damaging pictures of Stanford with the wives of the England players, with Matt Prior's pregnant wife Emily being seen sitting on his knee.

Sussex wicketkeeper Prior, who is preparing for England's second Test against India in Mohali, admitted the Stanford experience was an unsettling one for him and the team.

Asked about the incident with his wife, Prior said: "She got a rollicking! A lot of stuff is blown hugely out of proportion but that's international sport these days.

"Everyone is keeping an eye on every movement, everything you do, everything your wife does - it's crazy.

"That's sport and you just get on with it, you take it with a pinch of salt and ultimately you try and play cricket and try and perform. That's what it's all about really."

But Prior remained philosophical about the prospect of missing another opportunity to win USD1million and insisted playing for England - particularly after being overlooked for the last year - was his main motivation.

"It's a huge opportunity and to play in one of those Stanford games is fantastic," he admitted.

"It's a potentially life-changing opportunity, but what will be, will be. We're not in control of what happens and what goes on.

"If it carries on then fantastic, but if not there'll be other things. There's a huge amount of money going into cricket at the moment, but maybe because I've been out of it and come back you realise it's not just the cash, it's the huge amount of pride you get from playing for your country.

"It's a fantastic feeling to play for England, especially here in India where the crowds and the atmosphere are amazing.

"It's a huge moment any time you play for England, whether it's a Stanford game, Test match or one-day international. Ultimately the pride of playing for your country for me is the thing that eclipses all other things."