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IPL farce and Stanford scam

cricket Updated: May 01, 2010 09:02 IST
Anand Vasu
Anand Vasu
Hindustan Times
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Welcome to a land where people don't recognise Lalit Modi when shown a picture. The island of St Lucia is 14 miles wide and 27 miles long at the extremities, an area not exceeding 238 sq miles. The only international cricketer they've produced is Darren Sammy, and he'll be the first to admit that he's an all-rounder of modest ability.

Anthony Theodore was once the highest wicket-taker in the local league, his chinamen bamboozling the best of batsmen. He played under-19 cricket for the country, but realised soon that his future was best secured in the hospitality industry. He works as a guide, agent, an overall fix-it man on the island, but cricket is behind him.

“Kieron Pollard, the big man plays along Sachin (Tendulkar),” he drawls, perhaps exaggerating the Caribbean accent to give the visitors their money's worth. “We followed the IPL, but you have to be careful with these big businessmen maan. Have you heard of Allen Stanford?”

And it's not hard to see why he thinks that way. After all, the biggest con of them all, a T20 match for 20 (million dollars) happened right here in the West Indies. Influential Texan billionaire Stanford was Modi's precursor by some way.

The first thing Stanford did was set up the most absurd proposition: a T20 match where the winners walked away with a cool $20 million, while the losers got nothing. It was the mother of all pressure games, and to get it on the road, Stanford put an elaborate scheme in place.

The strategic tie-up with the England & Wales Cricket Board, which included a crass media event in which Stanford descended on Lord's in a helicopter with $20 million in cash on display in plexiglass boxes, was a clever move. Better still, was signing up all the legends of West Indies cricket, from Sir Viv Richards to Sir Gary Sobers and 10 others, besides, putting them on a council even more toothless and unguarded than the IPL's governing council.

But the Modi comparison does not end there. When Stanford was at the ground, abutting the airport at Antigua, a camera was focussed on his every move. This backfired when wicketkeeper Matt Prior watched in disbelief on the giant screen as his pregnant wife perched subserviently on Stanford's lap. But that was a blip easily negotiated.

The eventual showdown between England and the Stanford Superstars, the match for $20 million, turned out to be a one-sided affair as the visitors were thrashed by 10 wickets.

The problem for Stanford, however, was not so much the cricket. When the Securities and Exchange Commission seriously investigated Stanford's business empire, and found that investors were not actually getting returns on investments, but rather, that fresh investors were being roped in to pay off older ones, his world collapsed. Providing details of an $8 billion “Ponzi scheme”, the FBI simultaneously raided Stanford's office, resulting in his arrest in February 2009.

Now declared bankrupt and in jail awaiting trial, Stanford's was one T20 dream gone badly wrong. That must sound familiar to some back home in India.