England empty-handed as Superstars gifted victory

Woeful batting performance seals fate for Pietersen's men before Gayle force helps hosts blaze way to the richest prize in team sport. By Stephen Brenkley in Antigua.
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The Independent Online

England did not so much lose $20 million last night as hand it gift-wrapped to the Stanford Superstars on a golden platter. In an embarrassing display which demonstrated either that the money on offer – $1m a man – mattered too much or did not matter enough, they were humiliated.

The Superstars, who looked nervous at the start, dismantled the opponents' batting and from the moment they captured their first wicket in the fourth over, the cash was going only one way. England failed largely because they batted like millionaires and as a result none of them was ever in the remotest danger of becoming one.

They were bowled out for 99 on a supremely respectable surface and the Superstars, living up to every letter of their name, won at a gallop. Their captain Chris Gayle thrust them to the loot in buccaneering style along with Andre Fletcher.

This has seemed a likely outcome. Gayle had conducted himself all week like a man who could take it or leave it but was almost certainly going to take it. It was perfectly splendid. He made 65 in 45 balls and scythed his fifth six to win the match by 10 wickets. There were 44 balls unused.

For England it was merely the culmination of a quite ghastly week. They had never felt comfortable about competing for the cash while probably craving it. That was not a happy juxtaposition. Failing to enter into the spirit of the occasion, they muffed it. In the stands Sir Allen Stanford, the man who paid for this extravaganza, was delirious. He looked like a man for whom the notion of giving away such a sum was worth every cent.

All England's big names came and went, rabbits in the headlights, collapsing like any old well-respected financial institution. There was no positive aspect to an exhibition befitting paupers and they were dismissed with one ball of their allotted 20 overs left.

The Superstars were guided by Gayle, the coolest man in cricket and perhaps in sport, who passed on some of his approach to his team. They bowled straight and cleverly, they were smart in the field, they held their catches – so much for poor floodlights.

England's batsman came and they went. There was no real warning of what was to come when Ian Bell and Matthew Prior gave the innings an assertive start, placing well, running hard and hitting boundaries. And then it all went wrong. How wrong, how dreadfully wrong.

Bell was yorked and, three balls later in Jerome Taylor's over, Prior was also bowled, by a slower ball, moving across his stumps trying to hit to leg. It might have looked worse than it was but that did not make it less than dreadful.

This sort of thing can happen in Twenty20 and it kept happening to England. There was a huge sense of anticipation in the hours before the match. Maybe it was because it was Independence Day in Antigua and the island wanted to celebrate, maybe it was because the ground was bedecked and full, maybe it was because two teams of big-time cricketers had waited months for this one encounter, not knowing which squad members would make the cut.

But maybe, no definitely, it was because of the money: $20m the biggest prize in team sport, 13 million of it for the match itself. For the winners the lot, for the losers nothing. There was no escaping the harsh fact. It was spelled out starkly in large letters on the big screen. "Winners – Playing XI $11m, Rest of Squad $1m, Management $1m, Losers nothing." As the posters all round the island had it: "One Night, One Shot, $20 million".

And whatever the feelings towards this eccentric fixture, however puritanical it was possible to get about it, there was no questioning the mood. Pitch, lights, the approach of the man who was paying the loot, Sir Allen Stanford, suddenly mattered not a jot.

The Antiguan national anthem was played before the start, which was understandable since this fixture will always take place on this island. Part of Stanford might want to save cricket. But there was only one Antiguan in the team, Sylvester Joseph, the vice-captain. The insistence in the island throughout the week was that it was a West Indies team.

The assertion England showed after winning the toss and having no hesitation in batting seemed like a dream afterwards. Owais Shah was out to a splendid running catch but the pull which preceded it was grotesquely miscued. Kevin Pietersen exposed his stumps and was bowled round his legs.

Both those wickets fell to Darren Sammy, who was a surprise choice to use the new ball. But anybody would have surprised England in this mood. Andrew Flintoff drilled a four down the ground and then the ball after that he was bowled essaying a horribly executed drive. It was all over now and the rest meekly followed, though Samit Patel almost took them to three figures before being run out going for a second run which was never there.

Earlier in the week, Flintoff, when asked about the vast sums on offer, had said there was no point in spending money in your mind. Where England's mind was last night may never be known but a fair guess is too much on the cash and not enough on the cricket. In the heat of the Antiguan night Gayle, as good as his word, was cool, ice cool. And now his team mates have a cool $1m as well.

SCOREBOARD

England won toss

England

I R Bell b Taylor (11 balls) 7

†M J Prior b Taylor (11 balls, 2 fours) 12

*K P Pietersen c Mohammed b Sammy (8 balls) 4

O A Shah b Sammy (14 balls) 7

A Flintoff b Pollard (12 balls, 1 four) 8

P D Collingwood c Sarwan b Benn (15 balls, 1 four) 10

S R Patel run out (Gayle) (24 balls, 2 fours) 22

L J Wright c Sammy b Pollard (5 balls) 1

G P Swann b Benn (3 balls) 3

S C J Broad not out (12 balls) 9

S J Harmison b Benn (4 balls, 1 four) 6

Extras (1lb, 9w) 10

Total (19.5 overs) 99

Fall: 1-21, 2-22, 3-29, 4-33, 5-51, 6-54, 7-59, 8-63, 9-92, 10-99.

Bowling: D J G Sammy 4-0-13-2 (1w); J E Taylor4-0-25-2 (2w); D B L Powell 4-0-18-0 (1w); S J Benn 3.5-0-16-3 (1w); K A Pollard 4-0-26-2 (3w).

Stanford Superstars

*C H Gayle not out (45 balls, 5 fours, 5 sixes) 65

†A D S Fletcher not out (31 balls, 5 fours) 32

Extras (1lb, 3w) 4

Total (0 wkts, 12.4 overs) 101

Did not bat: S Chanderpaul, R R Sarwan, S C Joseph, K A Pollard, D J G Sammy, L J Cush, D B L Powell, R R Emrit, D Mohammed

Bowling: S J Harmison 3-0-30-0; S C J Broad 3-0-24-0 (1w); A Flintoff 3.4-0-25-0; S R Patel 1-0-9-0; P D Collingwood 1-0-4-0 (1w); G P Swann 1-0-8-0 (1w).

Umpires: R E Koertzen (SA) and S J A Taufel (Aus).

Third umpire: S J Davis (Aus)

Stanford Superstars won by 10 wickets.

Man of the Match: D J G Sammy (Superstars).

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