There can rarely have been a more bizarre double bill. One night at Lord's it was Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the world's greatest men. The next afternoon, barely the length of a cricket pitch away, it was Sir Allen Stanford, one of its richest.
One spoke about humanity, the other brought along a shedload of cash. It was an astonishing juxtaposition that embodied what cricket was and is desperately striving still to be, and what it is in grave danger of becoming.
Archbishop Tutu had flown from South Africa to deliver the annual Cowdrey Memorial Spirit of Cricket Lecture; Sir Allen, a Texan billionaire, had come from Antigua to launch an annual winner-take-all Twenty20 cricket match to be played between England and a West Indies XI for $20 million (£10m).
"Cricket reminds us," said the Archbishop, "that we are made for togetherness, that we can make this world more compassionate, more loving, more caring, more gentle. Could we have any higher aspiration, not only for cricketbut for the whole of life, as we humans experience it in a community, than that we live our lives in the spirit of cricket?" It brought the house down.
"I find Test cricket boring, but I'm not a purist," said Sir Allen the following day. The audience squirmed.
It is possible that the values outlined so movingly by Archbishop Tutu could be enshrined in Twenty20. But nobody truly believes it. The purpose of Twenty20 is to generate money, of which there is loads because it is immensely popular and populist, attracting new fans (like, indeed, Sir Allen). It has achieved a state beyond the wildest dreams of its inventors.
The England and Wales Cricket Board probably had no option but to conclude the Stanford deal. The players, already denied a share of the riches on offer in the smash-hit Indian Premier League, would never have forgiven them if they had spurned his advances.
The trouble lay in the presentation. It was meretricious in almost every respect – even, maybe especially, the $20m in cash there on which to gaze as if to prove the slogan: Twenty20 for Twenty. The show could have been an episode of the old television programme The Price is Right, with Nasser Hussain standing in for the old compère, Leslie Crowther. He might as well have shouted: "Come on down" as the great and the good assembled.
The price is right indeed. It took $20m to buy the ECB, but they could have spared us the guff about it being a union of soulmates. True, the legacy for West Indies cricket will be enormous (much greater than that of the World Cup there last year) since a significant part of the Twenty20 for Twenty, some $24.5m over five years, will be siphoned in their direction. The ECB will receive a similar amount.
The winning team will be awarded $1m a man a year, the losers nothing. It may be exciting and dramatic but the match is to all intents meaningless, a one-off exhibition. But the price is right all right: the ECB reported that their phones were ringing off the hook with fans desperate to buy tickets for the first match on 1 November. Sir Allen, for all his fulsome praise of the ECB, had already shopped around. He made overtures for matches of various guises to South Africa, Australia, Sri Lanka and India.
Maybe the problem was that the price wasn't right. Sir Allen upped the ante.
Of course, it is an established school of thought that it is better to play the field a bit before finding your one true love. England and West Indies, Sir Allen and Giles Clarke, the chairman of the ECB, both filled with entrepreneurial vigour, might be made for each other.
In the past few months, weeks and days, things have changed for ever. Twenty20 has taken on a life of its own and now threatens to take over, like the pampered child who ends up in control.
What was not mentioned at the launch of the Twenty20 for Twenty (it is tacky even to write) was that Sir Allen is also funding an annual quadrangular series, probably to be played at Lord's, involving four countries. For this the prize pot will be $9.5m a year.
Cricket is awash with Twenty20 and its money. Test cricket and 50-over cricket are both under threat. It is difficult to see how the latter can survive or how the former can prosper. One is a guest who has stayed too long ("Gosh, are you still here?"), the other is welcome but asleep in the corner ("Leave him alone, poor thing"). All the attention is being lavished on the new kid.
Tests, vibrant in England, need immediate help almost everywhere else. Never can the International Cricket Council's voice have been so important, rarely has theirdeafening silence been sounwanted. Their annual conference begins in Dubai on 29 June. Someone has to speak out and urge action.
It may take Clarke of England, voluble in his support of Tests, to bang a few heads together in the desert. If only Desmond Tutu were there as well.Reuse content