In 2008, 10 days after the inaugural IPL season concluded, Allen Stanford landed a helicopter filled with cash at the Lords Stadium to attempt to signal a dawn of a new era in English cricket. It turned out the treasure chest was filled with fake dollar notes.
The West Indies competed in the Stanford T20 in 2006. The second edition of it was held in the first half of 2008, prior to the first IPL. In face of the IPL starting and in wake of the Stanford T20 league the ECB felt that the time was right for starting a T20 league of its own. Stanford's financial prowess was appealing to them in inking a deal with him.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) signed a $100 million deal with Stanford to start a T20 competition. It had a unique format under which an England team would face a Stanford Superstars team from the Caribbean. It was supposed to be a five year deal with $20 million as the prize money for one edition of the contest.
Flushed with enthusiasm Stanford had said “I see the Stanford 20/20 as a fantastic opportunity for current players in the Stanford 20/20 tournament to take a giant leap into the spotlight and gain exposure to top class opposition. The Stanford 20/20 for 20 will be a highly anticipated event, not just because of the prize money, but because of the traditional friendly rivalry that exists between England and the West Indies.”
“Test cricket is not going to be the revenue generator that Twenty20 can be. Twenty20 can generate revenue through television.” he added.
This seems like an eyebrow raising amount for just one contest, but that was supposed to be the appeal of the concept. A high stakes game where the spoils go to the winners. Stanford had proposed the concept to South Africa and India as well, but both countries had rejected it.
The Stanford T20 for 20 match between England and Stanford Superstars was held on 1st November, 2008 at the Stanford Cricket Ground. The Stanford Superstars were led by Chris Gayle and they cruised to an easy win as the England side were all out at 99, providing an easy chase which was accomplished with all wickets in hand.
Stanford was appointed as the Knight Commander of the Order of the Nation (KCN) of Antigua and Barbuda by the Antiguan government in 2006. As early as in October 2009, the National Honours Committee of Antigua and Barbuda unanimously voted to strip him of his knighthood and in April 2010 the order for revocation was served to him. Stanford was arrested in the USA in 2009
The event gathered notorious attention because Stanford was seen sitting with the wives of the English players, with the pregnant wife of Matt Prior sitting on his lap. One England player was quoted as saying, “If that was my wife he’d put on his lap I would have wanted to punch him.”
Stanford tried to smooth matters and soothe egos. He said "I had no idea those were the English players' wives and that created quite a bit of an uproar. But I apologised for it. I went over to the English locker room and I apologised to the guys. I said 'look I was just over there having fun with the crowd like I always do, I was just horsing around, I didn't mean anything by it', and they accepted my apology."
"There was one chair shy of having us all sitting there, so I said 'here come sit on my knee', and we were going to take a picture and that was the end of it." he added.
More bad luck came Stanford's way as he was indicted on 21 counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud and obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to launder money in a 7 billion USD fraud involving certificates of deposit issued by his offshore bank in Antigua. In 2012 he was convicted and sentenced to 110 years in prison for running a Ponzi scheme.
The ECB cut its ties with him, and Stanford has just issued an apology. "It makes me very, very sad. I'm very sorry. It breaks my heart and there's nothing I can say other than that was not caused by Allen Stanford. That was caused by the wrongful prosecution. An over zealous and a wrongful prosecution.”
Stanford also lamented that he is not in touch with the sport as much. "Cricket is not a very big sport in prison,”
However brief Stanford’s foray into cricket may have been, he did provide the world with an unforgettable sight. That of a supposed messiah landing down in the Mecca of Cricket in a helicopter with a box full of fake cash.