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Billionaires' Twenty20 vision

Source - theage.com.au

Two billionaires are threatening to revolutionise cricket just as Kerry Packer did 30 years ago by capitalising on the popularity of the Twenty20 game.

Antigua-based American Allen Stanford and Indian Subhash Chandra, who made his fortune in the grain trade, are on the verge of establishing separate big-money Twenty20 competitions.

Stanford plans to stage an international Twenty20 carnival in the West Indies next year. In the build-up to their match against England today, talk in the Australian dressing room is about the tournament, including speculation that prizemoney could be up to $24.5 million. The winner of the current World Cup, by comparison, stands to win just over $3 million.

An Australian player's agent has been in touch with Stanford's representatives to clarify the situation and was advised the tournament was in its preliminary planning stages.

As with Packer, who launched World Series Cricket in 1977, television rights are believed to be the reason Chandra wants to shake the game's foundations.

Twenty20 cricket has attracted massive crowds, huge television ratings and eager sponsors it also is seen as the best hope of opening cricket up to new markets, including China and the US. But there has been a reluctance to push it at the expense of the traditional forms of the game. The first battlefront has been established on the subcontinent, where the powerful Board of Control for Cricket in India is on a war footing with Chandra.

As with Packer, he formed a rebel competition, the India Cricket League. Chandra hopes to give the six-team league a foothold in the India market with a series of Twenty20 matches that would feature overseas stars, Indian internationals and talented rookies.

Chandra, who owns Zee Telefilms, has reportedly outlaid about $28 million to start the competition. In a situation that mirrors Packer's 30 years ago, the BCCI rejected Chandra's $378 million bid in 2004 to broadcast the sport on his network despite being the highest bidder.

Australian players such as Shane Warne, Justin Langer and Glenn McGrath have been linked to the rebel competition, but McGrath's manager Warren Craig said he had had no contact with the ICL.

A source close to Chandra told the Indian media the body intended to recruit top players from around the world. The danger for Cricket Australia would be if global companies such as Pepsi or Coca-Cola decide they could reinforce their standing in the growing Indian economy by helping, for example, the New Delhi Devils target a Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist or Brett Lee.

So far, the BCCI has used the same tactics employed by the Australian Cricket Board to try to block Packer. It has banned the ICL from using BCCI facilities. "First, if he (Chandra) is planning a local tournament, he can't use our sports facilities without our permission," BCCI vice-president Lalit Modi said. "If he is roping in international players, that requires the sanction of the BCCI and ICC."

Stanford proved last year he had the financial clout to be taken seriously. He ploughed $34 milllion into a successful Twenty20 competition that involved 19 Caribbean nations.

The series introduced black bats and helmets, orange balls and thousands of fans because he didn't charge an entrance fee.

Former England captain Mike Atherton applauded the endeavour. Besides paying each of the 19 competing nations a $122,000 development fee, each man of the match took home $30,000. That was increased to $122,000 in the final. "The days of a trinket and bottle of champagne are long gone," Atherton wrote. Guyana got $1.22 million for winning, while runner-up Trinidad and Tobago won $611,000.

The West Indies is in position to become the epicentre for Twenty20 cricket. The grounds are small enough to allow big scores, the wickets are batsman-friendly and the population loves fast-paced cricket.

West Indies commentator Tony Cozier reported last month that Stanford met with ICC president Percy Sonn and chief executive Malcolm Speed in Jamaica but their discussion was kept a secret.

Stanford was burnt by the West Indies Cricket Board last year when his plan to stage a $6 million three-match Twenty20 series between South Africa and his All Stars XI was scuttled because it clashed with the tour of Pakistan. He has since paid the West Indies $2.5 million to sanction his tournaments to avoid such conflict.

A 12-team World Cup is scheduled for South Africa in September. If two billionaires get their way, it may be the only game worth playing.

So far, the BCCI has used the same tactics employed by the Australian Cricket Board to try to block Packer. It has banned the ICL from using BCCI facilities. "First, if he (Chandra) is planning a local tournament, he can't use our sports facilities without our permission," BCCI vice-president Lalit Modi said. "If he is roping in international players, that requires the sanction of the BCCI and ICC."

Stanford proved last year he had the financial clout to be taken seriously. He ploughed $34 milllion into a successful Twenty20 competition that involved 19 Caribbean nations.

The series introduced black bats and helmets, orange balls and thousands of fans because he didn't charge an entrance fee.

Former England captain Mike Atherton applauded the endeavour. Besides paying each of the 19 competing nations a $122,000 development fee, each man of the match took home $30,000. That was increased to $122,000 in the final. "The days of a trinket and bottle of champagne are long gone," Atherton wrote. Guyana got $1.22 million for winning, while runner-up Trinidad and Tobago won $611,000.

The West Indies is in position to become the epicentre for Twenty20 cricket. The grounds are small enough to allow big scores, the wickets are batsman-friendly and the population loves fast-paced cricket.

West Indies commentator Tony Cozier reported last month that Stanford met with ICC president Percy Sonn and chief executive Malcolm Speed in Jamaica but their discussion was kept a secret.

Stanford was burnt by the West Indies Cricket Board last year when his plan to stage a $6 million three-match Twenty20 series between South Africa and his All Stars XI was scuttled because it clashed with the tour of Pakistan. He has since paid the West Indies $2.5 million to sanction his tournaments to avoid such conflict.

A 12-team World Cup is scheduled for South Africa in September. If two billionaires get their way, it may be the only game worth playing.

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