Five years ago today, a Kevin Pietersen-led England played against a team called the "Stanford Superstars," which was made up of West Indian cricketers in a Twenty20 match in which the winners would pocket $20 million.
The extravaganza was funded by Allen Stanford, a multi-millionaire who lived in the Caribbean.
The match was intended to be the first of five—one played annually—but when Stanford was arrested for fraud and sentenced to 110 years in prison, the ECB terminated their contract with the financier and the tournament was consigned to the annals of history.
Five years on from one of the most embarrassing sagas in English cricket history, B/R takes a look back at the whole gruesome escapade.
The ECB were keen to enter in a deal with Stanford to help find a solution to the growing problem of the Indian Premier League.
The T20 league in India offered English players unparalleled riches, and the ECB were concerned about losing control of their players during the six-week tournament that clashed with the beginning of the English season.
The Stanford Super Series therefore posed a handy alternative that offered England's players the opportunity to earn significant sums of money in an ECB-endorsed tournament that could be played at a time in the calendar in which there were few schedule clashes.
In light of what happened later, with Stanford's arrest, his gratuitous welcome onto the Nursery Ground with his helicopter at Lord's, the Home of Cricket, was cringeworthy and embarrassing.
Flanked by ECB chairman Giles Clarke and West Indian cricket legend Sir Gary Sobers, Stanford prowled around the Lord's Nursery Ground.
He had been involved in West Indian cricket before the launch of the Stanford Super Series—running the domestic T20 tournament in the Caribbean and putting together a group of "legends" to endorse his project.
West Indian cricket has a rich heritage. The fact that legends such as Sobers and Sir Viv Richards were drawn into the whole facade is a huge shame.
Perhaps the most enduring image of the saga will be Stanford flanked by cricketing head-honchos and former players, standing tall, and beaming behind a glass box of $20 million. Whether the money was even real is unknown, in the light of the fraud scandal, but it was a grotesque show of wealth and power.
Stephen Brenkley, writing prior to the tournament in The Independent, was prescient in his assessment of the series:
Of all the short-form matches currently being organised, the conclusion is easily reached that Stanford Superstars v England is the most offensive. It has no context as a proper sporting competition, it is neither country versus country, club versus club or invitation XI versus invitation XI. It is a rococo hybrid. It has money but nothing else going for it.
When the series eventually got underway, the walking, talking disaster continued.
The pitches were poor, the cricket was shoddy and the show was horribly stage-managed. Cricket was Stanford's toy and he was enjoying playing with it.
Perhaps the most embarrassing moment of the tournament was when Emily Prior—wife of England wicket keeper Matt Prior—was seen bouncing on the knee of Stanford. who looked like the cat who had got the cream.
To top the whole thing off, England lost the $20 million match, thus taking home nothing and rendering the initial point of getting involved unfulfilled.
It wasn't even a close match, with the Stanford Superstars romping home by 10 wickets. England looked disenchanted, fed up and wholly unimpressed with the occasion. And who could blame them?
The Stanford Saga should be remembered as one of the most embarrassing moments in cricket history, and an accurate reflection of an era dictated to by money and greed.