Stanford 2020 pulling in the fans
The Stanford Twenty20 cricket tournament is moving from strength to strength. It has truly been wonderful so far and the way things are going, it looks as if it is heading for a glorious finale on Sunday, August 13.
As far as producing the next George Headley, the next Gary Sobers, the next Viv Richards, the next Lance Gibbs or the next Curtley Ambrose is concerned, with so many over 40s and close to 50s involved, with so many people of limited talent involved and with the emphasis being on fun more than anything else, it is certainly not a breeding ground, not a feeder for West Indies cricket - certainly not as far as players are concerned.
No one, however, ever said it was - not one of the 14 legends and certainly not the benefactor.
Although Allen Stanford, the billionaire whose money - over US$36 million of it - bankrolls the richest cricket tournament ever in the history of the game, has always said that he wanted to create a professional environment where West Indian cricketers can do what they do best and be rewarded for excellence.
He has also said that his vision for his tournament is "that it will be the catalyst for a resurgence of love for the game, that it will signal the return to the glory days."
And if that is what Stanford and his 20/20 cricket is all about, he has certainly succeeded - probably even more than he himself had imagined.
Although the two matches on that day were St. Maarten versus U.S. Virgin Islands and Bahamas against Cayman Islands, from the first day the tournament has attracted huge crowds and on Wednesday and Friday when Antigua - the home team, Guyana and Jamaica were on show, the gates had to be closed as more than 4,000 spectators crammed into the ground.
Were they there for the cricket or were they there to have fun - to enjoy the entertainment?
Maybe that was it. Maybe they were all there for the fun and with so many other Caribbean nationals living in Antigua, with so many islands so close to Antigua, they were there, with flags and colourful shirts and dresses to match the colours of their flag, to support their country.
Whatever the reason has been, or the reasons have been, with so many people present every night - including women with young children in arms and older ones hanging on to their skirts - the Stanford 20/20 has been a tremendous success as far spectator support is concerned and that is the support that Stanford wanted.
Four thousand people at Sabina Park to see Jamaica in action or 4,000 at Kensington Oval to see Barbados in action, however, would definitely not be considered a lot of people and the West Indies Board could hardly be expected to spend the kind of money that Stanford must have spent on providing entertainment for the fans.
Because of Stanford's 20/20, however, because of the number of people who, for whatever reason or reasons have been going to it, because of the number of people who may get hooked on the game having been exposed to it and because of the number of people who may have become so patriotic that they have to be there next time to cheer, cricket in the West Indies, the real thing, may be better off because of the numbers who may now start to follow the game at the club level, at the regional level and at the international level.
Even though in the real thing play starts at 10:00 a.m. while people are still at work, even though there will not be the same kind or level of non-cricket entertainment, even though there will not be any overweight and unfit old men to get the spectators laughing and in the mood, and, as talented they may be, even though there may not be any young kid who does not belong but whose babyface draws rounds and rounds of applause from the mothers on the ground even when he misses the ball, the Stanford 20/20 augurs well for West Indies cricket.
It certainly promises to widen the fan base.
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