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Antigua ready for media spotlight

Source - iht.com

The little Caribbean Island of Antigua will be in the media spotlight on Saturday, November 1st 2008 when England take on the Stanford All Star XI at the Stanford Cricket Ground.

Allen Stanford arrived by helicopter at the home of cricket, bringing with him millions in cash and plans to revolutionize the sport.

Sharply dressed, the Texas-born billionaire sat behind a crateload of money bundles of $10,000 in $50 bills and outlined his strategy for Twenty20 cricket to take over the game.

English cricket had never seen anything like it.

The mustachioed American, who has lived in the Caribbean for 26 years, says he wants to give something back to his adopted community.

So, he's spending $100 million to fund five Twenty20 matches over five years between England and his West Indies team, the Stanford Super Stars. The first $20 million winner-take-all match will be held Nov. 1 in Antigua.

It's the richest payday in cricket history $1 million for each of the 11 players on the winning team, with the rest split among the reserve players and staff and national cricket associations.

Stanford also hopes to reintroduce cricket to the Olympics it made one appearance in 1900.

"I think Twenty20 is destined to be an Olympic sport," Stanford said. "In 10 years, I think it can be.

"With the right financial support behind it and the right vision, it can be the dominant team sport in the world."

Stanford has little patience for the traditional form of the game, test matches that often go five days without a winner. He instead compared test and Twenty20 cricket with differing architectural styles at the hallowed cricket ground at Lord's, with its modern press box amid stately buildings.

"I find it boring, but I'm not a purist," Stanford said when quizzed on test cricket. "Here at Lord's the buildings go back to the 1700s, that's test cricket. If you look at the new 'Eye in the Sky' (the modern media center at Lord's), that's the Twenty20 game.

"You could no more do away with the 'Eye in the Sky' than you could do away with that 1700s building. Test cricket is the foundation, where cricket came from. Twenty20, however, is the future and that's where you'll make your money."

The 58-year-old Stanford first made his fortune in the 1980s in Houston real estate, then expanded his grandfather's Stanford Financial Group into a global financial services provider, which now manages $50 billion worldwide.

According to Forbes, he's the 605th richest man in the world, worth $2 billion. He has Antiguan citizenship and a home in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also an honorary knight, an honor normally given to British and some Commonwealth citizens by Queen Elizabeth II. He was knighted by the government of Antigua and Barbuda in 2006.

While his Stanford Financial Group sponsors other sports and athletes, Stanford's personal passion is for Twenty20, the most condensed form of international cricket. It usually is over within three hours.

"This has a more charitable streak to it," Stanford said. "I'm doing things with cricket in the Caribbean that I would not ever do in any other business, marketing or branding of the Stanford financial name.

"Do we get image and brand awareness of that by today? Of course we do. But it takes a lot more money that we'll actually probably get."

Stanford is not the first wealthy businessman to try to change the face of cricket. Australian media magnate Kerry Packer got there first, launching World Series Cricket between 1977 and 1979, taking the game to new stadiums, introducing a white ball, floodlighting, colored uniforms, new marketing techniques and trying to better package cricket for his television network.

Stanford is implementing changes, too. The event even has its own reggae-inspired theme tune. Players will use black bats a move reluctantly allowed by the game's lawmakers, the Lord's-based Marylebone Cricket Club while the wickets will be silver-colored instead of natural timber.

All this is in stark contrast to the normally conservative England and Wales Cricket Board, whose chief executive, David Collier, was forced to fend off accusations Stanford's investment could be construed as "vulgar" by cricket purists.

Although it is destined to draw criticism from traditionalists, English cricket great Ian Botham said the sport should embrace the change, not fear the death of test cricket.

"You don't have any of these 20-over games without test cricket," Botham said. "How do you pick the players? How do you get the superstars of cricket in the arenas? You need a staging point test cricket will always be a benchmark. So if it's the icing on the cake for players, then so be it."

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