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Stanford looks to walk away from cricket

Texas billionaire Allen Stanford has decided to end his five-year contract with the England and Wales Cricket Board for an annual one-day series after he lost USD 40 million in the first year itself, sending ECB into a financial tailspin.

With Vodafone, sponsors of the England team, announcing their decision not to renew their annual four million pound commitment beyond 2010, the loss of Stanford's riches would be a major setback to the ECB purse strings.

According to a report in the 'Daily Mail', Stanford has told his staff in Antigua that he was pulling the plugs off the five-year contract with ECB besides axing the board of West Indian legends, including Sir Viv Richards.

"Stanford told staff at his Antiguan cricket office that he is dissolving his board of legends, which also includes Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose, and curtailing his involvement in cricket following the backlash that greeted England's participation in a tacky venture that brought nothing but anguish to the English game," the report said.

A similar deal with West Indies cricket will also be terminated, a development which will leave the game in the Caribbean, the principal benefactor from Stanford's largess, in a desperate situation.

Stanford had pinned hopes that the series would help cricket crack the United States market while the ECB saw it as a way to forestall the exit of leading players to the lucrative Indian Premier League.

The report said Stanford had made heavy losses after paying his victorious Stanford Superstars team USD 20 million for the Twenty20 showdown against England in Antigua last month, while another USD 20 million went on television and sponsorship deals connected to the event.

Stanford was expected to fund the competition for another four years and was also supposed to bankroll the England Premier League Twenty20 tournament from 2009.

According to the newspaper report, Stanford's decision was an "acute embarrassment for ECB chairman Giles Clarke, who had formed an uneasy alliance with Stanford in a bid to keep England's governing body at the same financial levels as India's powerful cricket moguls."

"The implications for the English game could be immense. Stanford was supposed to be backing an annual four-team international Twenty20 tournament at Lord's each summer, starting next year, while also bankrolling four more years of matches involving the England team at his Antiguan base. Waving goodbye? Stanford could be on his way from the cricket world - but at what cost?" the report said.

"His fortune was also expected to ensure the success of the English Premier League Twenty20 competition, which is due to start in 2010 and was supposed to include two overseas teams, one of them a Stanford-backed outfit. Clarke, who finds himself under increasing pressure when he is due to come up for re-election as chairman of the ECB in March, needed Stanford's support if he is to make a success of what is supposed to be a rival to the Indian Premier League," the newspaper reported.

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