On England's 2006 tour of India Matthew Hoggard was asked whether he would rather win the 2006/07 Ashes or the 2007 World Cup. The fast bowler's reply was unequivocal and immediate. "The Ashes," said Hoggard. On the eve of today's NatWest Twenty20 international against New Zealand in Manchester Paul Collingwood, the England captain, was given a choice of the Ashes or Sir Allen Stanford's £500,000-a-man winner takes all Twenty20 match in Antigua on 1 November.
Few have taken greater pride in wearing the three lions of England than Collingwood but the question was followed by a deafening pause. After weighing up the pros and cons he attempted to answer the question as honestly as possible but in the end he could not decide. In one moment Collingwood highlighted the dilemma facing cricket. What was once clear is now clouded, blurred by the vast sums of money that can be earned for what Kevin Pietersen once called a "silly game".
"It is a difficult one to say," admitted Collingwood. "All my life I have wanted to win the Ashes and I want to regain them again. Whether the spin-offs for winning the Ashes add up to the same amount as you get in a one-off Twenty20, I don't honestly know. In the end you do want to win this one-off game as well. It has a massive incentive.
"The scary thing about the whole situation is that there is not anything on the game. It is not the World Cup, it is not the Ashes. When you are growing up as a kid these are the things you dream about winning. The scary thing here is that all we are playing for is money. None of us have been in this position before so we don't know how people react. We are going into a grey area with it all, the unknown.
"It's exciting because if you win the game you get the money. On the other side it could be quite dangerous because if you lose it could be quite devastating. It is a little uncomfortable but you are not going to turn the money down. There are a lot of positives too because it offers a lot of opportunities."
There are fears too, and Collingwood expressed those honesty too. "For my generation Test cricket was the thing you wanted to play," he said. "We have to make sure the next generation have the incentive to play Test cricket: they may just want to play Twenty20. In the future players will think 'do I want to go away for four months and play an Ashes series or go away and play a one-off game for £10m?' There is no question in what direction they will go.
"Test cricket has got to live. We were all involved with that Ashes series in 2005, it caught everyone's imagination and everyone was watching it. It was compelling. We cannot lose Test cricket. I don't think there is a problem in England but it is worrying around the world – the ICC [International Cricket Council] have to try and make Test cricket as lucrative as Twenty20. The ICC need to nail down where they want cricket to go."
Anyway, an important game of cricket is due to break out this evening. The team prize money for winning may only be £7,000 but Luke Wright, who is set to open the batting for England, and company will be desperate to impress. Collingwood will be hoping the prospect of earning big money in the future does not distract his side or transform them in to a selfish group that place individual needs ahead of the team.
If England are distracted they will get their backsides kicked by a competitive and well-drilled New Zealand side. Stanford's announcement meant that the Black Caps display at Northampton, where they amassed 358 in a 50-over game, slipped under the radar. Brendon McCullum scored 123 and Ross Taylor 75. Were the pair qualified both would be certain of a trip to Antigua later in the year.
England (possible): P Collingwood (c), R Bopara, L Wright, K Pietersen, O Shah, D Mascarenhas, T Ambrose, S Broad, G Swann, R Sidebottom, J Anderson.
New Zealand (possible): D Vettori (c), B McCullum, J How, P Fulton, R Taylor, S Styris, D Flynn, J Oram, K Mills, J Patel, M Gillespie.