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New day dawns in Windies' game

Black bats, coloured uniforms, black helmets, orange balls, and matches at night.

This all adds up to the inaugural Stanford Twenty20 Cup which gets going today at the Stanford Cricket Ground located adjacent to the VC Bird International Airport and about five miles outside of the Antigua & Barbuda capital.

It remains to be seen if this brand of fast-food cricket that has put thousands of bums on seats wherever the concept has been introduced will gain the same level of support from spectators in the Caribbean.

"Today cricket is no different than any other professional sport, and by that I mean it is - and has to be - entertainment, pure and simple," remarked Allen Stanford, the Antigua-based, Texas-born financier and developer of the competition, at the official launch on Saturday.

"It has to be exciting and it has to be a commercially viable enterprise. I see a great opportunity to go forward. A new approach, however, must be taken for the sport to grow and prosper in the years ahead."

Its 19 teams from 18 Caribbean countries, including Bermuda, the United States and British Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, and the Cayman Islands, playing 18 matches over a six-week span is enough to whet the appetite of fans addicted to the crash and bang stuff.

"We need an explosion of energy into cricket, since never in the history of the game in the Caribbean has there been such a financial commitment to support grassroots cricket," Stanford said.

"My vision for the Stanford Twenty20 Cup is that it will be the catalyst for a resurgence of love for the game and that it will signal the return to the glory days of West Indies cricket."

Three teams will be eliminated in a preliminary round of matches today and tomorrow, then its four knockout rounds, with a semi-final on August 11 and the Grand Final two days later.

Featherweights St Maarten and the USVI take centre stage in the opening match today, when the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands will also take to the field.

There will be no Leeward and Windward Islands, so all of the countries that make up the sub-regional sides will go it alone in the tournament.

This includes hosts Antigua & Barbuda, who will contest their first match on July 19 against the winner of the tomorrow's preliminary game between the British Virgin Islands and St Lucia, and will be looking to give more evidence that they can play as a separate entity in the major regional first-class and limited-overs competition.

Guyana, the Caribbean champions of the 50-overs variety of the game, play their first match on July 21, and Trinidad & Tobago, the double-crown champions of first-class cricket in the Caribbean, tackle either the Bahamas or the Cayman Islands on July 25.

Stanford put together a US$28 million budget for the Twenty20 Cup that will continue to be invested in the game in the region over the coming months up to November this year, when a Stanford Super Star team will be selected by the 14 cricket legends on the Stanford Twenty20 board to play one match against South Africa.

The grand prize for this winner-take-all between the best of the Stanford Twenty20 and South Africa will be US$5 million.

In order to create an atmosphere for each of the nations to excel within the tournament and to ensure their long-term development, Stanford included over US$5 million in financial and other support for them.

Each country's governing body received US$100,000 to be used for the improvement of facilities, training and other development of the team and its members.

An additional US$10,000 stipend per month helped support the team, and US$5,000 per month was used strictly for maintenance and upkeep of each country's facilities.

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