PRESSURE. It’s an overused word in modern-day sport. But its usage was, for once, appropriate when England played a West Indies XI in a cricket match over the weekend.
The winners took home $20 million. The losers left with nothing. That was the winner-take-all prize put up by Sir Allen Stanford, a billionaire financier born in Texas but now a citizen of Antigua and Barbados.
Stanford has a passion for cricket. Earlier this year, he agreed a deal with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to stage five Twenty20 internationals between England and the West Indies.
Twenty20 is the short-form version of a sport that still has matches lasting five days in duration.
The $20 million is the largest prize ever offered to a team for winning a single tournament.
The Stanford series was not without controversy, especially after the 58-year-old was pictured in the British tabloids balancing the wife of the England wicketkeeper on his knee.
Not only that, the cricket purists claimed that the ECB has sold their soul to the devil. This competition wasn’t about the glory of the game; it was about money, pure and simple. Correct!
England players can’t handle the pressure
The merits of the match clearly got to the England players. They were bowled out for just 99 runs and the Stanford Superstars did not lose a wicket in successfully reaching their target. In baseball parlance, it was akin to a 10-0 defeat.
England captain Kevin Pietersen was magnanimous in defeat, admitting the West Indies players needed the money more than his team.
“I looked at the faces of players who basically have nothing and it brought a smile to my face,” he said.
“It was absolutely fantastic to see a guy fall over crying at the end with a million dollars in his bank account.
“I’m a human being and these guys are fellow professionals. Quite a few of them are a lot less privileged than I am and our lads are. To see them so happy is wonderful.”
West Indies batsman Chris Gayle will be spending part of his winnings on hospital treatment for his brother, who has a heart problem, and his father, who is also ill in Jamaica.
At least some of the money from this ill-advised competition will be spent on a good cause.