Tycoon offers England £10m for one match

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The Independent Online

Plans to set up an English version of the cash-rich Indian Premier League moved a step closer last night when the England and Wales Cricket Board signalled their willingness to enter negotiations with the Caribbean cricket entrepreneur Sir Allen Stanford.

The American-born billionaire met the ECB chief executive, David Collier, in London yesterday to discuss his offer of a $20m (£10m) winner-takes-all Twenty20 match between England and an all-star West Indies team in Antigua later this year.

But the broader agenda included Stanford's possible support for an English Premier League as the ECB seeks a way to head off the potential loss of Test stars to the IPL next summer.

Representatives of the 58-year-old Texan, who has a personal fortune estimated at around $2bn (£1bn) and already bankrolls his own Stanford 20/20 tournament in the Caribbean, described the talks as "very positive".

This description was endorsed by the ECB, which said a meeting had taken place in London "with the full knowledge of the West Indies Cricket Board" and which had been "very positive and constructive".

A spokesperson for Stanford 20/20 echoed those comments, adding: "There are a lot of things that need to be resolved but it would be fair to say that the ECB are interested in the idea [of a one-off match], subject to the approval of the international cricket authorities. We are looking at staging the match on 1 November, which is Independence Day in Antigua."

England are scheduled to tour India in November, but should the match go ahead it would put the ECB in a strong position when it comes to renegotiating central contracts with England's Test players this year. A potential jackpot from a one-off match might be the perfect sweetener to deter England players from joining next year's IPL, which clashes with the English domestic season, and create time to establish a home-based rival event in 2010.

Hampshire's Dimitri Mascarenhas is the only English cricketer signed up to this year's IPL, which opens on Friday, and the ECB is refusing to allow England players to take part.

But Kevin Pietersen, who could expect to be a top earner in the IPL, which has already agreed deals of up to £770,000 with international stars, described the official stance as "ridiculous" and the England captain, Michael Vaughan, yesterday said it was "inevitable" that England players would take part, possibly even next year.

"I've heard so many people say that all the best players in the world are there and you want to go and play in it," Vaughan said. "So I think we're all naïve if we don't think that England players are going to end up playing in the IPL.

"If there are big grounds, and there is a lot of money involved, you're going to want to play in it and I think it will be sooner rather than later that we will see England players playing in the IPL.

"I'm sure there will be even more leagues set up around the world because Twenty20 is here to stay."

Pietersen said yesterday that he was pleased that the ECB was considering Stanford's offer. "Until I hear more about the proposals I cannot comment, but it sounds great, very exciting for players and spectators," he said. "Twenty20 looks like the way forward. It's a three-hour game with a winner, like football or rugby, and it is what spectators want to see. This is the way cricket seems to be going. I want to play more of it and get good at it."