Cricket in the Caribbean was given a tremendous boost in October with the announcement of the Stanford 2020 challenge. And now the competition's representatives, almost all former West Indies internationals, are spreading the word across the region's less high-profile outposts. One has been assigned to each of the participants.
Allen Stanford, a billionaire based in Antigua, announced a $28 million investment in Caribbean cricket, with the Stanford 2020 tournament at its heart. The 17-team event, scheduled to be held between July and September 2006, will mean that the participating countries will receive around $280,000 to prepare for the event, as well as having all direct costs paid. The tournament winners will earn $1 million.
At the weekend, Alden McLaughlin, the Cayman Island's sports minister, met with Richie Richardson, the former West Indies captain who is helping Cayman Islands with their preparations. He told Richardson that the government would be an equal partner in the venture. McLaughlin said: "As a lover of West Indies cricket in the good or bad times, it's an honour to be involved in planning for Cayman's participation in this event."
It was a similar story in Anguilla, where Clive Lloyd's visit prompted the government to announce that it too would match Stanford's investment. "We are most grateful to Stanford for his generous donation to a sport that he has never played, but for which he has a passion and the desire to see West Indies cricket restored to its glory days," Benjamin Hughes, president of the Anguilla Cricket Association, told reporters.
And in the Virgin Islands, it was Courtney Walsh doing the talking. "I'm impressed with the facilities I'm seeing, but there is a little bit of work to be done," he said. "We need to get the practice surface up and running and then the guys can get started training. It's got to be the No. 1 priority."
"From a monetary standpoint, it's a big deal," Calvert Gibson, Virgin Islands Cricket Association president, explained. "Because the tournament hasn't played yet, we don't know how far it's going to go, but the money is not just for 2020. The money is for the infrastructure of cricket and the future of cricket."
In St Kitts, Curtley Ambrose was the ambassador. Although there was no promise of government funding, Ambrose was nevertheless bullish. "I am impressed with St. Kitts' enthusiasm about the upcoming tournament," he said. "They have strong ideas about what they want to accomplish and I think with the money from Stanford and some guidance, they should be on the right track for 2006."
In Bermuda, Lance Gibbs was more cautious. "I have looked at all the grounds and the major concern has to be the pitches," he explained. "Youngsters growing up on pitches with an uncertain bounce and the ball going in odd directions are never going to be able to develop the cricketing mind to make it.
"This money is for infrastructure and coaching to help sides prepare for next year's competition. But it isn't just about the tournament, it is about improving the standard of cricket across the region for now and for the future. It is about leaving a cricketing legacy and putting in a long-term plan to raise the level of cricket that is being played."
But the Bermuda government announced a massive $11 million investment a few months back, and that should enable them to make massive progress ahead of the 2020 and the 2007 World Cup.
In Antigua, Joel Garner visited the Factory Ground, which was once one of the country's main venues but has not recovered from the damage it suffered from the 1995 hurricane. "The present pavilion needs to be torn down and rebuilt," Garner observed. "The ground needs to be re-graded in order to facilitate proper training by the team and to be able to host domestic cricket matches. A lot of work is needed, but I believe if we start working immediately, in two months there will be a great improvement and they should be able to start using the field to prepare for the 2020."