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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
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

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home