Stephen Brenkley: Winner takes all, even the game's soul

The Last Word: $20m match has money but nothing else going for it. The players will get rich but cricket will be the poorer

As sterling goes down, the prize money available to England's cricketers in Antigua next Saturday goes up. But with each notch on the digital displays, it is probable that the spirits of theplayers, perhaps soon to be rich, are heading south with the pound.

Four months ago, $20 million was worth, a buck here or there, £10m. By close of play on Friday, it was equivalent to £12.7m. That means the £500,000 for each member of the winning team in the main match of the Stanford Super Series has now become £638,000, an extra £2,500 a week over the course of a year.

All the soundings from inside the England camp suggest that they are beginning to feel extremely uncomfortable about this winner-take-all match between England – yes, the official England XI – and the Stanford Superstars – yes, an invitation side assembled for the day by one of the world's richest men, the Texan billionaire Sir Allen Stanford. No man in his right mind could turn down the chance of earning the sort of money on offer in the legitimate pursuit of his trade, and those who have asked if England's players might donate the money to charity are posing a question too far.

There is something not quite right about it, however, and the players sense it. Ian Bell, who will open the innings, pointed out on Friday that given the choice between winning the Stanford lucre – how tempting it is to use the traditional prefix of filthy – and winning the Ashes it was no contest. The Ashes every time.

It was also highly instructive to hear England's captain, Kevin Pietersen, on the subject last week. Now in some quarters Pietersen,

venerated as he has become, is still a cricketing mercenary, having left his homeland South Africa to make his fame, but much more obviously his fortune, in England.

Playing against the Stanford Superstars, it was possible to infer, was not what Pietersen had in mind. Asked if the match against the Superstars should not be taking place, he said: "Yes, there is obviously scope for that. We're employed by our employers, we're fortunate to go over there and play this fixture. A lot of people think too much and too deeply about stuff, I don't do that with things I have no control over."

But would he be happy leading England in this fixture? "I have to be," he said. "It's something I have been picked to do. The thing is that the ECB is a business, and like any business-minded people they treat it like that. As hard as it is to say, that is reality. We play for our country and we do what we're told by our employers."

Hardly a ringing endorsement for the events about to take place at Stanford's own Coolidge ground. Pietersen was effectively saying that they are playing because they have to.

Perhaps the ECB had no choice but to play the match as well. Their explanation that they are doing it for the wellbeing of West Indies cricket, which will receive $3.5m from the prize fund each year for the next five years, has slight substance. But it is not the main reason.

This decision to be partners with Sir Allen was partly to placate the players who felt they missed out on the pots on offer in the Indian Premier League because of its clash with the English season, and partly to collect $3.5m themselves, which they may be able to use as a sop to the county clubs.

There is also the defence that Twenty20 matches of one sort or another are springing up all over the place, and if the appointed boards of control did not do it, some rich chap would bustle in and set up his own tourney. Like, say, Sir Allen Stanford.

Of all the short-form matches currently being organised, the conclusion is easily reached that Stanford Superstars v England is the most offensive. It has no context as a propersporting competition, it is neither country versus country, club versus club or invitation XI versus invitation XI. It is a rococo hybrid. It has money but nothing else going for it.

The burgeoning of Twenty20 is merely following the market. The IPL was a tremendous hit last year, and in its wake other competitions have sprung up. England have rather been muscled out of this. They are not a founder member of the Champions League, and the news on Friday that Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are trying to establish an all-singing southern-hemisphere tri-nations Twenty20 is bad news for England's own plans for a Premier League.

England have apparently told India that England's players can play in the IPL next April if India release 20 players for the EPL from 2010. Since the IPL is scheduled to run until 29 May, by when England's players will have had to return for other duties, India may not bother. England's playersmay come to feel they are missing out not simply on money but on something significant in terms of high-class, meaningful competition.

The future of cricket is on the line, not least how Test cricket can survive when T20 is garnering the audiences and the attention. It will be a rumbustious affair in Antigua this week, demanding to be noticed, but it will not be the answer to anything.

Suggested Topics
Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week