This week, Twenty20 cricket arrived in the Caribbean. It’s the fastest and whackiest form of the game yet. Only twenty overs for each team, about eighty minutes each, the whole match over in three hours. Black bats, black sight-screens, black helmets, luminous orange balls, tight boundaries, restrictions on fielders, instant penalties for time-wasting, “bowl-outs” to settle drawn matches (like penalty shootouts in football). The idea is to re-energise the Caribbean game and draw back the new generation which prefers the speed of basketball.
Twenty20 cricket has spread through much of the cricketing world since 2003 and has been pulling the crowds. In the Caribbean, the sponsor is Allen Stanford, a Texan businessman who has lived in Antigua for 22 years and is a combination of Bill Gates and Kerry Packer. He’s certainly spreading the cash around. The winner of the tournament gets US$1 million, the runner-up US$500,000. Each participating country gets over US$100,000 for cricket development. To spice up the games, each Man of the Match gets US$25,000, each Play of the Match gets US$10,000 (that should encourage some dramatics), and the fastest bowler in each match also gets US$10,000. The total budget for Stanford Twenty20 is a whopping US$28 million.
Action started on Tuesday with a round of preliminary knockouts among the 19 participating countries, to be followed by a round of 16, with semi-finals on August 11 and finals on August 13. All the matches are in the new stadium Stanford has built in Antigua, and all except the semi-final and the final are free to spectators. Many of the leading West Indies players are involved, as well as fourteen “legends” of previous years, including Garry Sobers, Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards. It looks as if Stanford plans to develop a regional Twenty20 team too, since he has already said a “Stanford Superstars” side will play South Africa in the Caribbean in November, for prize money of US$5 million. (Eat your heart out, WICB.)
The purists will no doubt gnash their teeth, as they did when one-day matches were begun in 1963 and when Packer revolutionised the game in 1977. But they’d better get used to this new development. Stanford has the money and the organisation, and no Texan could conceivably figure out a game that goes on for a whole five days.