Allen Stanford, the Texan property millionaire based in Antigua, has recently introduced the Twenty20 format to the cricketing public of the Caribbean. This is a massive shot in the arm for a cricketing region in the doldrums after disappointing international form, contract disputes and a failure to arrest the decline of interest at youth level.
The tournament runs from 11th July to the 13th August with 19 teams playing 18 matches for a first prize of $1,000,000. Mr Stanford has clearly been unimpressed with the recent malaise of the West Indies board and has organised the event without their support, and some would add blessing. He has been shrewd in recruiting cricketing legends such as Viv Richards, Everton Weekes and Andy Roberts to promote the competition and act as champions to the 19 participating nations.
Unlike other private cricketing ventures, like the Kerry Packer world series, the Stanford Twenty20 supports headline-grabbing prize money with developmental grants to the participating teams. Each of the 19 participating teams has received $250,000 to help prepare for the tournament. Some of these teams have never participated in the top tier of West Indian domestic cricket before. This has resulted in an eye-catching schedule with fixtures such as St Vincent versus the US Virgin Islands and Guyana versus Montserrat.
The tournament has also provided opportunities for Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, two ICC associate nations who are not members of the West Indies Cricket Board. Bermuda will relish the opportunity to pit their wits against their illustrious island neighbours and gain experience to take into a busy late summer schedule including an Intercontinental Cup match, the Americas first division tournament and an ODI tri-series with Kenya and Canada. They will also be aware that as the first associate nation to participate in a high profile domestic Twenty20 competition they could steal a march on their competitors should they qualify for the inaugural Twenty20 world cup by either winning or coming runners-up in the first division of the World Cricket League next year. The Cayman Islands are not as far along the path of cricketing development as Bermuda although they did have a brief excursion in the Intercontinental cup in 2005 after the withdrawal of the USA. They too will benefit from this experience and will hope to cause an upset in the forthcoming Americas first division tournament.
Another beneficiary of Mr Stanford's cricketing philanthropy are the Bahamas. They become the first Affiliate member of the ICC ever to take part in a top-tier domestic competition. They came runners-up to Argentina in the Americas 2nd division tournament but will be keen to show they are not there merely to make up the numbers.
The involvement of European associate nations in English domestic competitions has been cited as a major factor in their dominance of the ICC trophy and intercontinental cup, the two major competitions for the second tier of international cricket. Aside from Namibia's fleeting appearance in the South African domestic calendar in 2004, associates in other regions simply haven't been offered this opportunity. It remains to be seen whether their involvement in this competition will make a difference in performance and results on the field. What is certain, however, is that the experience itself and the investment and media interest that accompanies it will leave a lasting legacy on the cricketing communities of these aspiring cricketing nations.