Sunday, 22 February 2009

grubby - english cricket

Grubber is a cricketing term for a ball that bounces unusually low and is therefore difficult for the batsman to hit. Underneath grubber in the cricketer’s dictionary should be a new term; Grubby. Grubby just about sums up the state of English cricket following the Stanford affair in which the ECB sold its soul to a Texas billionaire whose financial empire seems to have collapsed amidst accusation of massive $8 billion fraud.

The Stanford affair is only the latest episode in the sorry tale of English cricket. For me the real rot set in when the ECB decided that home Test Matches would no longer be shown live on terrestrial television. This followed England beating Australia and winning the Ashes in 2005. Set aside the embarrassing spectacle of England cricketers staggering around London for several days in a drunken stupor (can you imagine the opprobrium that would have been heaped on footballers behaving in such a manner). The ECB ran straight into Sky’s arms and, at a time when they could have drawn in millions of new fans and grass roots players, they guaranteed that the majority of potential fans wouldn’t be able to watch test cricket. O.K. there would be a short highlights package on Channel 5 but you couldn’t even receive this channel in some parts of the country; my relatives in Devon for example. What on earth the government was doing not including test cricket in the 'crown jewels' of protected sporting fixtures I do not know but I guess the cricket authorities persuaded them it would be a revenue winner.

English cricket’s lowest point came, however, when Stanford flew into Lord’s Cricket Ground in his helicopter and pulled out $20 million. You can read about the whole sorry affair here. In summary the ECB agreed to play a Stanford series in the Caribbean, the highlight of which would be a 20/20 tournament with the winning side standing to win $1 million per player. Look at the figures, $1 million per player for half a days work. Now imagine how the members of the England squad left out of the side would feel watching their team mates raking in the dosh. What effect on team moral would this have? The ECB have effectively said that the England cricket team is up for sale to the highest bidder. There is only one word for it; grubby.

As it was, the match was an embarrassment and England truly pathetic, being trounced by the Stanford team. The only good thing to come out of the event was that some not so wealthy West Indies players received a welcome income, though the news following Stanford’s collapse is that several of them reinvested their winnings in his businesses. Events around the tournament were cringe worthy but the ECB didn’t seem to care because Stanford was pouring money into the English game through sponsorship and the county chairman lapped up the money. The players looked and sounded humiliated; torn between chasing the cash and not wanting to appear as money grubbers. It wasn’t their fault as they were put in this invidious position by their bosses, the ECB.

And now the chickens are coming home to roost. Stanford’s empire is collapsing and the ECB has belatedly withdrawn from the partnership. English and county cricket has already received substantial payments from Stanford’s sponsorship and is struggling to explain how they didn’t conduct due diligence before entering the partnership. Actually the ECB board claims it did conduct due diligence which by all accounts amounted to little more than checking Stanford had the money, not questioning how he got the money. The U.S. authorities claim they’ve been investigating Stanford’s businesses for years, yet, everything smelled of roses to the ECB.

As I write this I’m listening to Gary Richardson on Radio 5 Live grilling a county cricket chairman on Stanford and it is embarrassing to hear the prevarication, equivocation and self justification. There are a few exceptions amongst the county chairmen, most notably Neil Davidson of Leicestershire who has called for resignations. What is becoming clear is that no one is prepared to take responsibility for the debacle and the board’s chairman, Giles Clarke, and chief executive, David Collier, are refusing to stand down.

Stanford may have bowled English cricket a grubber but the way the England and Wales Cricket Board has batted has been truly Grubby.

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