England left in limbo by T20 dispute

Doubts over Stanford match could harm planning for 2009 Ashes campaign
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The Independent Online

When Sir Allen Stanford's private helicopter landed on the Nursery Ground at Lord's, delivering its owner and a number of West Indian legends to announce a five-year, $100m (£57.7m) deal with the boards of the West Indies and England, the cricketing world, and in particular its leading players, looked on with envy. The agreement gave the players of the West Indies and England the chance to play in a game of Twenty20 cricket for $11m (£6.4m), with the winners taking home a cool $1m (£578,000) each.

At a time when individual boards were struggling to maintain control of their top players, limiting the amount of time they spent playing in the lucrative Indian Premier League, it seemed as though the two boards had produced a masterstroke. No player was likely to turn down a central contract or be a pain in the backside if it in any way threatened his chances of earning so much cash for an evening's work.

It is hard to believe that the result of the High Court case between WICB and Digicel, a branding battle that the WICB lost, will have been treated with anything but laughter by those who looked on greenly in June. The verdict was that the match between Stanford's All-Star XI match and England could not be sanctioned, a ruling that places the game in jeopardy.

A compromise will undoubtedly be reached and the match will go ahead, even though billionaires such as Denis O'Brien (of Digicel) and Sir Allen Stanford are rarely prepared to take a backward step. For this to happen Stanford will have to allow his All-Stars side to wear shirts promoting Digicel, a rival of Cable & Wireless, with whom Stanford has a commercial agreement.

Kevin Pietersen's side and the ECB will nervously await the result of the negotiations. If the match were to be cancelled, the loss for the players is obvious. In the long term it could cause problems for the ECB too. Financially, the board would not lose a huge amount – the ECB's slice of Stanford's cake was $3.5m (£2m) per year. The fear for the ECB is that Stanford becomes fed up with cricket and ends his association with the sport, cancelling the proposed annual quadrangular Twenty20 tournament which is set to take place for five years from 2009. The gate receipts, sponsorship and television rights for these matches add up to considerably more than $3.5m.

When the ECB signed up with Stanford it was aware the Board of Control for Cricket in India could marginalise it, but as long as the Texan billionaire remains involved the ECB will feel relatively comfortable. But should he disappear the decision would be deemed a disaster. The ECB's reluctance to act as a lapdog to the BCCI has left it on the outside. It is not a shareholder of the Twenty20 champions league, whose television rights were recently sold for $1bn (£578m), and it has not been invited to participate in an international Twenty20 series involving Australia, India and South Africa.

Another problem could be the England players, who are yet to sign the central contracts they were offered last month. They want to know what they are committing themselves to and potentially giving away before signing. A window to play in the IPL is bound to be discussed as part of these contracts, and it would be a fair guess that several agents will be on the phone to IPL franchises should their clients end up spending the last week of October in England rather than Antigua.

Peter Moores, the England coach, would rather his players spent April resting at home. England have a huge summer of cricket in 2009 and Moores would want his players to be fresh and fit for the Twenty20 World Cup and the Ashes. Moores may, however, be left with no or little say in the matter.

The biggest loser, though, is the WICB. Cricket in the Caribbean is struggling for credibility and the shambles that has unfolded here will do little to encourage people to become involved. Greed has been the motive of the WICB, and by basically selling the same product to two different groups the board has shown astonishing incompetence.

Within months of hosting the World Cup, its actions are set to cost millions of dollars. More importantly it has managed to get its two biggest supporters at loggerheads with one another.

The positions of several people at the WICB must now be untenable. Dr Julian Hunte, its president, appeared a happy man at Lord's in June and Donald Peters, the chief executive, will have initially received plenty of pats on his back. There may be something sharper being aimed there now. When a governing body shows such ineptness it is little wonder the West Indies cricket team continue to flounder.


The amount for which television rights for the Champions League – in which the ECB is not a shareholder – were sold.