Richest game in history back on track for England

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The Independent Online

England's cricketers can start eyeing up fast cars and designer clothing again after learning that Sir Allen Stanford's multimillion-dollar Twenty20 match will go ahead as planned. A High Court commercial rights ruling on Tuesday had jeopardised the richest game in the history of cricket but the two parties, Digicel (the telecommunications company) and Stanford, yesterday reached agreement on the branding that will be present at the match.

With lawyers struggling to reach a compromise and the West Indies Cricket Board appearing totally inept, it ultimately took a transatlantic telephone conversation between the two top honchos, Denis O'Brien of Digicel and Sir Allen, to ensure that the match will take place. Prior to the link-up there was a possibility that the egos of two billionaires would deprive Kevin Pietersen's side of the chance to each earn $1m (£580,000) for an evening's work. England are not guaranteed the money but will return from the Caribbean with their pockets full should they defeat the Stanford Super Stars in Antigua on 1 November.

Sir Allen was delighted with the outcome. He said: "I am pleased with both parties' solution-oriented approach and most importantly that this matter has been resolved. We look forward to welcoming fans from around the world to the Stanford Cricket Ground to enjoy a fantastic week of cricket."

The row erupted when Digicel, the West Indies Cricket Board's principal sponsors, learnt they would only be given limited exposure during the game. Digicel believed that the Stanford Super Stars was the West Indies cricket team in all but name and, understandably, felt they were entitled to the same branding as when the West Indies play. When Stanford refused the request Digicel took the matter to the London Court of International Arbitration.

The High Court ruled that the WICB could not sanction the game without Digicel's approval. The game could have gone ahead but it would have thrown cricket into disarray. In an attempt to control the amount of Twenty20 cricket played and prevent the proliferation of unsanctioned Twenty20 leagues, the International Cricket Council, at the request of its member countries, is considering banning players who play in such events. Had the match been unsanctioned and England taken part, the players would have been banned from playing for England.

England and the Stanford Super Stars were not the only cricketers who would have missed out had a commercial agreement not been reached. Trinidad & Tobago, the West Indies domestic Twenty20 champions, and Middlesex, the Twenty20 Cup winners, have also been invited to play in a week of festival cricket.

To guarantee the status of the game it appears as though Stanford has had to agree to the three-point plan proposed to Stanford by Digicel a month ago. Digicel's requests were that no other telecommunications company was involved; Stanford's organisers pay the legal costs; and Stanford's team wear West Indies kit with Digicel branding on it.

The disagreement, and the fact that Stanford had to deal directly with O'Brien rather than through the WICB, a move that highlighted the incompetence of the WICB which had basically sold the same rights to two different bodies, is set to cost the board a significant amount of money.

The ECB's delight at hearing that the Stanford match would go ahead was tempered yesterday by the news that it could be hosting a Test series between England and a Sri Lankan second XI in May 2009. The ECB hastily agreed a Test and one-day tour with the Sri Lankan Cricket Board following the aborted Zimbabwe tour.

In an attempt to fulfil its obligations with Sky, the ECB offered a cash-strapped SLCB a significant sum, but the SLCB accepted without speaking to its players – and Muttiah Muralitharan, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara are signed up to play in April and May's Indian Premier League.

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