The ECB gambled, and lost. Not money so much as self-respect. And that's the pity.
By Suresh Menon
Cricket Boards generally find it difficult to ignore millionaires who walk into their offices (or land on their iconic grounds in a helicopter) carrying suitcases full of money. Over a decade ago, the late Mark Mascarenhas pulled off just such a stunt to impress the Indian Board with his sincerity, and financial qualifications to invest in Indian cricket. He carried ten million dollars with him, although it may have been one million that has simply grown in the repetition.
When Sir Alan Stanford landed his helicopter at Lord's - a ground journalists and players are chased out of and insulted if they attempt to look at the wicket on the eve of an international match - he became the first Texan billionnaire to do so before being investigated for fraud of a "shocking magnitude". Of the many good things to come out of this, not the least is the dim possibility now of anybody else being allowed to drive in, sky dive into, drop out of a passing helicopter or deliberately jump out of a balloon onto the turf once known as the holy of holies. Players and journalists will continue to be insulted, of course, but that is an old cricketing tradition and Lord's might like to keep it that way.
The cricket boards of two countries - England and the West Indies - are tripping over themselves to tell the world that the alleged fraud perpetrated by the alleged American Standord will allegedly not affect the game in their countries. Perhaps not, but it will be difficult to erase from the mind the picture of administrators, tongues hanging out, chasing the man with the alleged money with an alleged interest in the game, its players, and, of course their wives, pregnant or otherwise.
How did the ECB see this man as the saviour? Traditionalists have supped with the devil before, but few have been as unsubtle as this one. I think part of the reason was the desire to reclaim the clout in the game that has, gradually at first, and then rapidly, shifted towards India. It was bad enough when the veto power in the ICC went out of England's hands; then it turned out that India controlled about 70 percent of the finances in the game. Then came IPL and the stakes got higher. Australia, the best team in the world, accepted this; so did South Africa and the others. England bided their time.
In recent years, India have not been shy of telling England where they got off. Whether this was a case of the empire striking back or an anomaly righting itself, there was one thing that drove the engine of such change. Money. England didn't have a lot of it, India did, and therefore anyone who might help them get at India was welcome. He could land his helicopter at Lord's or in the dining room of the poet laureate; it didn't matter so long as he had money.
Blinded by emotion and filled with the desire to put India in their place, England called wrongly. If they saw the horns and the pitchfork, they ignored these. Understandable, but by exposing how vulnerable they are, England's administrators have shown they are sitting ducks for the glib tongue that comes along accompanied by the rustle of money.
It is easy to be harsh on the ECB. But what if their team had won a million dollars each in Stanford's backyard by beating the West Indies? And what if the Stanford dream had continued for a few years more? The ECB gambled, and lost. Not money so much as self-respect. And that's the pity.