Sydney, Feb.25 : A Texan billionaire with an outsized passion for Twenty20 is pouring part of his fortune into a West Indian competitor to the Indian Premier League.
Allen Stanford has no fondness for Test cricket and all its traditions, but he does appear to have the best interests of West Indies cricket at heart
The 57-year-old started investing in the Caribbean more than two decades ago, and in Antigua owns a bank, an airline, a newspaper and, after striking a deal with the West Indies Cricket Board, the right to stage his regional Twenty20 tournament every year in return for the 140.5 million dollars he is investing in West Indies cricket.
He makes his players look like superheroes, even if they sometimes field like grade cricketers, by equipping them with glistening black bats, pads and gloves, and is hell-bent on expansion.
He recently hassled the US Government into giving him permission to do business with Havana, and while it was granted too late for Cuba to be ushered in as the 21st team in this year's regional tournament, the Cubans will have a presence in 2009.
Stanford wants to Americanise the sport, and beam his games into the US, where he has spent 3.8 million dollars testing the market in Fort Collins, a Colorado university town in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains.
He wants to invite big national teams like Australia to play for a cash prize of 21.6 million dollars against a Stanford all-stars team. For cricketers already entranced by the riches of the IPL, the prospect of walking away with a couple of million dollars each for four hours' work may prove difficult to resist.
Stanford's other goal is more ambitious: to restore the West Indies to their former glory. He claims that 90 per cent of the crowds that used to cram into the Antigua Recreation Ground to watch Test cricket were men, but about 60 per cent of those who have flocked to the Stanford ground this weekend, to watch Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Jamaica and Barbados shoot for the 1.08 million dollars winner's prize, have been women and children. He says he will turn players from speck-like islands such as Nevis into full-time professionals.
Sanford is disillusioned with the "mercenary" behaviour of modern sportsmen such as the ones who rushed to join the IPL. And he's grumpy with the powerful Board of Control for Cricket in India, which knocked back an invitation to play the Stanford all-stars because it was in the process of wooing entrepreneurs to splurge on the IPL franchises. He insists players will represent only their local teams.
He has also snapped up 14 legends of West Indies cricket, including Richards and Ambrose, to serve as generously paid directors on his board, a move that not only gave his concept instant credibility but took 14 possible critics out of circulation.