London: Billionaire businessman Allen Stanford said Twenty20 cricket could replace soccer as the world's leading team sport after announcing a series of 20 million dollar matches between England and his Caribbean Super Stars side.
"With the right financial support behind it, the right vision, it can be the dominant team sport in the world," Stanford told a news conference at Lord's here Wednesday.
"I think Twenty20 combines almost all the elements of all sports: soccer, basketball, baseball, it even has track and field in it."
The first of five annual floodlit Twenty20 matches between Stanford's Super Stars and England will take place at his own ground in Antigua on Nov 1.
Players on the winning side will earn one million dollars each - a huge sum by cricket standards. However, members of the losing team will not get anything.
Of the remaining nine million dollars being put up by Stanford, a million will be divided among the rest of the winning squad and a further million will go to the victorious coaching team.
The other seven million will be shared between the cash-strapped West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).
Over the course of five years, a player on the winning side in all the games could earn as five million dollars while both boards are guaranteed a minimum of 17.5 million dollars each.
"The winner goes home happy, the loser goes home unhappy," Stanford, who arrived at Lord's in his own private helicopter, said.
These matches are effectively exhibition games as England are not playing the West Indies although ECB chief executive David Collier said they were "unofficial but authorised" by the International Cricket Council.
Stanford, a Texan who became a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda, has already invested heavily in a domestic Twenty20 tournament in the West Indies which now features his trademark all-black bats.
He denied he was simply giving money away. "I'm investing in cricket's future in the West Indies. We're in a bit of a trough and I want to do everything I can to bring it back up."
Former West Indies captain Vivian Richards, one of Stanford's advisors, added he was sure the matches would be competitive.
"We believe we have the product to do it justice. We wouldn't like you guys to come to the Caribbean and take it (the money) back to England."
Twenty20 has grown rapidly in global popularity since being launched as a professional sport at county level in England six years ago and spawned it own world championship, won by India in South Africa last year.
In India, the first edition of a new, lucrative Twenty20 tournament was recently concluded but Stanford said he believed English officials were best-placed to help him realise his Twenty20 vision.
"The ECB have the best organisation and the best management to drive cricket into the 21st century."
Meanwhile ECB charman Giles Clarke denied his organisation's involement was a way of placating England cricketers, who might otherwise earn big money in matches beyond the board's control. "We are not trying to appease them," he said.
"It gives them a chance to perform under pressure and to make money beyond the dreams of some of their predecessors," Clarke added as he addressed an audience including West Indies cricket greats Everton Weekes, Garfield Sobers, and Curtly Ambrose.
England coach Peter Moores denied the money on offer would damage squad morale but admitted: "It will be a different set of pressures for all the players. It's ruthless, as it should be. If you perform, you earn money."
WICB president Julian Hunte said the cash was vital for Caribbean cricket.
"We see this as part of the resurgence of West Indies cricket. We need this investment to underpin our own strategic plan."
Only last weekend plans were announced for a tournament later this year featuring the best eight Twenty20 sides from England, Australia, India and South Africa and this has led to fears regarding the future of five-day Tests.
"I find Test cricket boring," said Stanford. "But I'm not a purist. Test cricket is the foundation, Twenty20 is the future," added Stanford whose news conference ended with the unveiling of a box containing 20 million dollars.
And former England all-rounder Ian Botham, also at Lord's, said: "You still need Test cricket to get your players for Twenty20.
"No-one quibbles about golfers or footballers earning big money, so why shouldn't cricketers?"
Stanford is also understood to have held talks with the ECB regarding the staging of an annual four-nation Twenty20 tournament at Lord's although, as yet, no details have been made public.