James Lawton: England must free themselves from chains of Stanford's Super Shambles
These last few days English cricket was party to the game’s grotesque cheapening
Saturday 01 November 2008
Hard though it is to grasp, it seems that the players and administrators of English cricket didn't realise until too late the truth that has run through every ghastly moment of their misadventure in the Caribbean.
You know the one. It says that when you sell the best of yourself, and that which you do, it doesn't really matter about the price, whether it's a million bucks or 30 pieces of silver. You're done. You're a hired hand, and if you want something better, if you are truly ashamed – rather than merely embarrassed – by the situation you have found yourself in, well, the answer is simple enough.
You turn your back on the money and say to hell with it, I'm better than this, and so is the game played down the ages with such passion and love and character that for many, including such disparate characters as the playwright Samuel Beckett and the rocker Mick Jagger and a brilliant lady surgeon I know, who has recently been spending some of her own time sewing back into some working order the mutilated bodies of young African women, it became as much a sport as something to treasure for its beauty and its rhythm and its frequent capacity to carry both players and spectators on to another plane.
"Easy to say, mate, because you haven't been given the chance to trouser all that dosh," is probably an inevitable response to such sentiment and no doubt is true. But that doesn't interfere with the central point that has emerged in these few days when, shock, horror, English cricket was party to a grotesque cheapening – OK, if you want, prostituting – of the game. It is that if you take the money, fine, but also take all the consequences, including, however ungallant it sounds, the embarrassment of your wife caused by the "inappropriate" behaviour of the man who is footing the bill for this parody of what cricket was intended to be about. There is, all the evidence of the last few days says, an available response. It is to get out of there.
Sean Morris, chief executive of the Professional Cricketers Association, should consider this reality before issuing any repeat of the kind of risible quote that was rightly picked out on the back page of this newspaper yesterday. "Players are concerned that people aren't protecting them so they are open to ridicule."
Grown men, when they take anyone's shilling, and in this case professional sportsmen who lunge at the largesse of a man who, by his own admission, "hates" Test cricket, the highest, most challenging form of their game, are surely obliged to protect themselves.
Their indignation at the appalling conditions, the boorish behaviour of their patron, Sir Allen Stanford, their sheer anger at what amounts to nothing less than a sustained loss of dignity, is simply insupportable in the absence of the only reaction which would carry any serious meaning.
That, of course, would be to walk away, to say that the whole grisly charade is simply not worth the money.
We are told that David Collier and Giles Clarke, the chief executive and chairman of the English Cricket Board, are steadfast in their belief that, despite the "embarrassments", what is happening in Antigua will prove ultimately good for the game. Think, they urge us, of that money which landed with such mind-blowing vulgarity at Lord's when the whole sickening venture was rubber-stamped. Think of the benefits to the grass roots. But the grass roots of quite what, you have to ask.
The grass roots of a game that has been sold out to the highest bidder. For what are these roots being nourished with the fun money of the Texan billionaire?
Surely not for kids who might have the nascent talent of a Sobers or a Richards, a Graveney or a Gower or the current England captain Kevin Pietersen, to dress up in gaudy costumes and play a bastard version of a game which once reserved its greatest rewards for finely developed technique and concentration and an understanding of the subtle movement of the ball in changing conditions.
Are we really saying that this bastard cricket can do any more than biff and bang amid the remnants of a game that used to explore every corner of a player's talent rather than the cross-batted furies sustained by a good eye and raw power?
It would be nice, and too convenient, to imagine that the Antiguan experience will at least have a certain shock value, that the hollowness of the enterprise will remind those in power that they are playing a potentially fatal game.
Best of all, an image, ironically from the Indian hotbed of Twenty20, will be seen in the sharpest of relief against the tawdry picture presented by the Stanford Series. It is of the Australian pace bowler Brett Lee, after a hard and largely unrewarded day in the field in Delhi, placing his hand on the head of the Indian opener Gautam Gambhir (below) after he scored his maiden double-century in Test cricket. There is a wan smile on Lee's face, an acknowledgement that Gambhir had built a superb innings, that he had picked his shots beautifully and mastered every stage of a demanding day.
It is a picture which speaks of cricket at its best and you can only tremble at the chances of such a one being captured in a few years' time, when, maybe Sir Allen Stanford has tired of causing such acute embarrassment to those who snatched at his money.
English cricket has, though, clearly been given the cause and the opportunity to reflect on a decision that has so wounded its image.
There may be some legal difficulties, but it should consider revoking an arrangement that has tied a great game to the erratic whims of a man who fails to understand, if not actively despises, what lies at its very heart.
The restored good name of cricket would surely come cheap at the price.
Hamilton must pass test of composure as well as speed
Lewis Hamilton has a fast car – well at least fast enough to finish in a winning position at the end of his second world title campaign, however Felipe Massa builds on some impressive early practice – and, we surely have enough evidence, the character to shrug aside the latest racist effluence from Spain.
Whether he has the composure to deliver the vital points under immense pressure is the question that will be most compelling on the track so near to the grave of his hero Ayrton Senna. For the moment it is maybe enough to recognise the astonishing talent he has displayed in just two years. He has been accused of arrogance, but then who could begin to contemplate walking to tomorrow's grid without a fair measure of that?
Maradona – an affront to football or a demigod?
Diego Maradona fell into an open sewer running through the scabrous barriow here he grew up in Buenos Aires, and many, some of whom emailed yesterday to express their irritation that he had featured prominently on these pages, believe that his rescue was only a partial success.
They say that Maradona is an embarrassment to football and that his return as coach of Argentina is some kind of affront to the world game.
A cheat, a drug-user, toady of Fidel Castro, friend of the Neapolitan version of the Mafia while helping the club to its first scudetto, he is apparently an irredeemably soiled penny.
Of course, they do not see it quite that way in Argentina, where, for all his imperfections and jousts with a calamitous end, he remains a demigod.
They cannot get out of their heads the fact that he came closer to winning a World Cup single-handedly than any footballer alive and if he punched in one goal in the Azteca stadium to England's dismay, he also scored another that would have been impossible to better as a statement of unbreakable will and supreme talent.
Yes, in many ways Maradona has been a disaster, but he has hurt no one more than himself. Indeed, he was obliged to play most of his extraordinary career with the help of painkillers, so ruthless was the attention paid to him by defenders, particularly in Italy.
Anyone who saw him play in Mexico in the 1986 World Cup, and noted the reaction of the people when he walked in the street, will surely give some sort of a small cheer for the survival, against so many odds, of a little man who so many times defined the genius of the game that conquered every corner of the world.
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