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Stanford Superstars Capture US$ 20Million Purse
It’s Rich Cricket, Now and Beyond

By John L. Aaron in Antigua
November 2nd, 2008
The Stanford Superstars captured the inaugural Stanford US$20Million prize, guaranteeing each of the eleven starters a cool US$1Million paycheck. Unfortunately, for Lennox Cush, one of the players closest to New York cricket, he did not make the final eleven due to a nagging left knee injury sustained during practice. The injury was the result of another player simply sticking out his leg as Cush ran by, causing him to trip and strain a ligament.

Chris Gayle and Kevin Pietersen spinning the toss.
Photo by John Aaron

The all-rounder Cush, who was a star in the Stanford Caribbean 20/20 match against Jamaica earlier this year, capturing the tournament’s first hat-trick, played in the Superstars warm up match against Middlesex, the England 20/20 County champions. However, the selectors and physio team made a last minute decision to sit Cush for the money match. A cheerful team-player Lennox Cush expressed his delight at being afforded the opportunity to participate in the tournament. Twenty-four hours after the match he proclaimed that it was probably the right decision by the team’s management in the interest of not jeopardizing its chances.

Final scores in the match: England 99 all out in 19.5 overs (Samit Patel 22; Sulieman Benn 3.5-0-16-3, Darren Sammy 4-0-13-2, Jerome Taylor 4-0-25-2, Kieron Pollard 4-0-26-2). Stanford Superstars 101 without loss in 12.4 overs (Chris Gayle, 65 not out, Andre Fletcher, 32 not out). The Stanford Superstars won by 10 wickets.

Played before a capacity mostly home crowd, the Superstars dominated every aspect of the match resulting in the tumultuous victory over the visiting England XI.

Darren Sammy emerged as Man-of-the-Match for his fine bowling spell. At the end of the presentation ceremony Sammy could be seen sitting on the Stanford Cricket Ground outfield cradling his award trophy, appearing to be in deep disbelief.

Beyond the victory
Having secured the victory for their benevolent sponsor Sir Allen Stanford, the Superstars had earned the respect and the pride of the Caribbean people. Despite the downplaying of the match incentive of US$20Million, in the end, it was about the money. Some critics described the match as an anti-climactic conclusion to the Stanford Super Series, with England scoring a paltry 99 runs, not offering much in the way of a challenge to the Stanford Superstars.

In a victory that had several exclamation points, the Stanford Superstars XI earned their money in more ways than one, by routing the highly touted England Cricket Board XI, in such a devastating manner and before a very appreciative home crowd.

Hard work has its benefits
With six weeks of hard training under their belts, the Stanford Superstars made Sir Allen Stanford a very proud man, and momentarily returned Caribbean cricket to one of its proudest moments, albeit under different circumstances than the traditional classic format of the sport.

With US$20Million riding on the line, it was strange to hear the Superstars skipper Chris Gayle prior to the match, describe it as just another cricket match. Quite frankly, this was no ordinary cricket match with so many people around the world watching players walk away with the richest paycheck in the history of the sport, on a single day of just three hours of work.

For the ECB’s XI, it seems as though the week in Antigua and the richest single cricket match in the world could not come to an end fast enough. In fact, England’s skipper Kevin Pietersen stated in a press conference just three days ago that his team could not wait for the week to come to an end, stating that, “… (we) just want to get it over with and go home.” One of the English players stated then that it was not as though England was playing for the ashes against Australia, adding that the money was a good incentive, but winning the match would be considered a victory for England as a matter of pride. Well England either did not play with much pride, or was in such a hurry to exit the Stanford Cricket Ground and Antigua, that in the process they left their wickets way too early, scoring under 100 runs. On the other hand, one may argue that it was more about the approach to the match by a well-prepared Stanford Superstars XI, than it was England’s haste to pay the Antigua exit tax fee.

England had entered the series highly touted by their own press, as being very formidable. However, after winning by just one run against Stanford’s Caribbean 20/20 champions Trinidad & Tobago and complaining about the lights and the slow pitch at the Stanford Cricket Ground, it appeared as though they had given up hope of winning against a well-oiled Stanford Superstars XI. Maybe, the English were preparing for defeat by basing their expectations on issues outside the realm of the match itself.

A fitting tribute
The performance of the Stanford Superstars was exemplary, and no cricket management group, board, or major sponsor could have asked for much more from their journeymen. The Stanford Superstars played with a sense of purpose and determination not often seen by those playing for one’s country. Therefore, was it for pride, or was it for the money? Speaking with several of the Stanford Superstars during the days leading up to the match, some of them admitted that the individual prize money would be a life-changing factor, but they were trying not to focus on the money as the sole reason for going out to win the match. Many of them thought they owed a victory to Allen Stanford, for all he had done for them and West Indies cricket during the past three years.

Lost somewhere in the focus of the actual match was the preparation leading up to Saturday, and the resounding victory by a team that in large part represented the West Indies, and by default the West Indies Cricket Board. Allen Stanford and the Stanford organization prepared their representative squad for the match in so many ways; one can only see the preparations as having been handled as a business entity would, and not as an association.

One question, which rose immediately following the match was can the preparation that went into preparing the Superstars squad be sustained by the West Indies Cricket Board, going forward? If such a level of preparation can be sustained, then Sir Allen Stanford’s comment immediately following the match would endure, “This victory proves that we can kick anybody’s (rear end),” stated Sir Allen, in response to a question I posed to him, just prior to the trophy presentation and the popping of the champagne corks right on the field at the Stanford Cricket Ground.

The emergence of some players, who may not otherwise have been immediately considered for selection by the West Indies Cricket Board’s selectors, is a major accomplishment of the Stanford experiment in jolting life into West Indies cricket.

An elated Sir Allen Stanford was vindicated in so many ways for really putting his money where his heart is, in going all out to have a group of players fully prepared both mentally and physically, for the biggest match of their lives, and beyond, by offering financial counseling to the latest Caribbean millionaires. The latter value-added incentive is something each and every one of the players can readily use, while some of them will have earned more money than they would have dreamed of earning in a lifetime, or more so one day’s work.

Cricket as a business
Criticized by some for trying to run West Indies cricket or negatively impacting the classical form of the sport, Allen Stanford has proven time and time again, his ability to demonstrate the business acumen that breathes success. Let’s face it; the Stanford Group is in the business of making money, period. Whether, the current investment will yield an immediate profit, is left to economic strategists and investors with a greater understanding of such matters than I am qualified to offer comment. What I do know is that the Stanford Group; a largely financial investment entity is now venturing into the area of the sports entertainment business, making cricket in the Caribbean a family-oriented entertainment experience, with positive outcomes. This brand of cricket entertainment is no doubt ultimately aimed at a larger audience beyond the Caribbean.

Is the next stop for the Stanford 20/20 brand, the United States of America? An American businessman investing in a classic brand, but with a twist to selling more of it or a variation on its theme, is not surprising, nor is it rocket science, but it takes vision, passion, finance and the Midas touch to make ideas leap off the dream boards. Allen Stanford has emerged as one of the single most prudent businessmen in recent times, to recognize a failing brand and inject a sense of hope and pride, in both player and supporter. Stanford’s investment will undoubtedly have long term benefits for so many, but more importantly, the Stanford Group, and quite rightly so, because it is that entity’s vision that played out on the Stanford Cricket Ground last Saturday.

Branding the future
The branding of 20/20 cricket as an entertainment art form is fast becoming the marketing strategy of proponents of the shorter form of cricket. However, Stanford’s marketing strategy is aimed at more that advocating a shorter form of the game; it is aimed at involving greater audience appreciation, through its focused marketing approach and attention to detail in its branding, and customer service. It is a multi-faceted approach, aimed at reinvigorating interest and life into the sport in the Caribbean, while generating revenue for the business, bigger pay checks for the players, and a value-added approach for its patrons.

Stanford’s marketing strategy has already paid off significant dividends in attracting more women and children to 20/20 cricket matches than ever before, in the Caribbean. With a strategic branding approach aimed at the younger generation, the 20/20 format of the game will have an indelible impact on the future of the game from an entertainment perspective, a perspective that readily attracts advertisers and generates significant revenue.

Once in a lifetime, there comes along a visionary whose dynamic approach impacts the nature of a business or sport, in a significant way; hopefully for the better. Allen Stanford’s impact on cricket will undoubtedly have a long-lasting effect on the sport, whether it will become the dominant form over the more classic format is still left to be seen. Either way, one should sit back and enjoy the ride of seeing young cricketers exploit the opportunities, while providing quality entertainment for the patrons.
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