At the time of my writing this article, the richest prize competed for in team sport had not yet taken place. It was imminent, and the full scale of drama was yet to unfold. But this is irrelevant; whoever watched the $20 million winner-takes-all ‘cricket’ match between the Allan Stanford Super Stars and the ‘England cricket team’ in Antigua on Saturday the 1st of November was not watching and supporting an England team representing and playing for their country. You shouldn’t have been out of partisanship, loyalty or patriotism, either. You were in fact watching and supporting a group of talented individuals playing for a sizeable increase in their bank balances, and they certainly weren’t playing for you.
‘Cricket is unashamedly money driven’
Perhaps I should explain how cricket as an entity is changing and how it has got to this position. Forget the idealistic, romantic vision of our sleepy summer sport; right now cricket is as unashamedly money-driven as it has been at any point in its history. Money that has been poured into the game, particularly from India and the sub-continent in recent years, has produced the opportunity for unparalleled riches which cricket as a sport has never experienced before. I’m not saying that international cricketers do not deserve to be paid more handsomely; they most certainly do. But not through means such as this. The official aims of both Sir Allen Stamford (a Texan billionaire who has bankrolled the event and hates the concept of test cricket but has admitted his love and business potential for this form of the game) and the England Cricket Board are very lofty and admirable; he wants to revive West Indies cricket, England want to help in that and also get some money which will help its own grass roots game. Nothing could be more worthy.
This is where the worthiness truly ends. The potential wide-ranging consequences are huge. This wasn’t about two ‘teams’. In essence, it was twenty-two players contesting a huge amount of prize money for our entertainment. Monetary incentives are far greater than they ever have been before, meaning that the sheer pride of playing for your country which I, as well as many other young aspiring sportsmen, were brought up on is banished to one side. As for the playing side of things, what will happen to the four members of the England squad that didn’t play, if they have won? Yes, they can console themselves in the knowledge that there is still a pay cheque of the not-so-small $250,000 on its way to them shortly. But what about team unity? Will it cause factions, rivalry, bitterness? The spirit of equality in a dressing-room, of any sport, is paramount.
Or what if England have lost, and one player was responsible for dropping a crucial catch that would have secured that $20million prize? What would it to do to his relationship with the other players? What about his confidence, and his career as an international cricketer? In this materialistic world that we live in these days, something such as this may have more of an effect than we first think.
But ultimately, whilst the England players are reluctant to admit it – particularly in the current economic climate – they have been in Antigua to play for money. They had the opportunity to turn it down, but who would? Privately the match will be seen as a meaningless exercise if it were not for the cheque at the end of it.
This “movement of change” seems unstoppable in cricket, and is threatening a landslide. Fair enough, cricket is changing, let them share the wealth. But lets stop this sickening episode in Antigua from becoming all too regular in cricket and further sport. You can use the old cliché of it sport being in the ‘entertainment business’ and needing to ‘perform for the fans’. But not like this. Team sports and national identity in sport in general are changing, and this is a particularly vulgar example of how this is manifesting.
On Saturday the 1st of November the Stanford Superstars 101-0 (12.4 overs) beat England: 99 (19.5 overs) by 10 wickets.