Dubai, Jan 2 (UiTV/IANS) – In February 2021, the Emirates Cricket Board had approved a new, exciting T20 league — International League T20 (ILT20) — to be played in the UAE. But due to Covid restrictions, it took a year to implement it. Now it is all set to start with a bang in Dubai from January 13.
The fixtures for the inaugural edition have been announced, with Dubai Capitals locking horns with Abu Dhabi Knight Riders in the opening match on January 13. The final of the brand-new league will be played on February 12. All six teams — Dubai Capitals, Abu Dhabi Knight Riders, Gulf Giants, MI Emirates, Sharjah Warriors and Desert Vipers — will face each other twice during the league stage, which will be followed by four play-off matches.
Khalid Al Zarooni, Vice President of Emirates Cricket Board and board member of the Asian Cricket Council, said; “Our board (ECB) is very excited to move forward with this new T20 league, which we believe will drive the growth and popularity of cricket in the UAE. We also envisage that our UAE-based sportspersons can showcase their talent on the international stage and make a name for themselves through such opportunities.”
The league has a total salary cap of $2.5 million per team, according to media reports. This makes it the second richest T20 tournament in the world after the Indian Premier League (IPL).
According to sources, the league has signed contracts worth $450,000 for the top players, making it the second most lucrative T20 league for players after the IPL.
The players will be paid almost double the amount they get in other local leagues. And no tax will be charged on the money earned by them.
This is in sharp contrast to the Big Bash League in Australia where the highest-paid player cannot earn more than $238,000 per season. As of now, only IPL can match ILT20 in terms of the amounts paid to the top players.
The league will start with a concert on January 13, where Bollywood and international celebrities are expected to perform. The teaser song, sung by superstar rapper Badshah, is the anthem of the T20 league.
The tournament will see the participation of 84 international and 24 UAE players. The franchises include Abu Dhabi Knight Riders (Kolkata Knight Riders), Desert Vipers (Lancer Capital), Dubai Capitals (GMR), Gulf Giants (Adani Sportsline), MI Emirates (Reliance Industries), and Sharjah Warriors (Capri Global).
According to an official statement, “The league has discussed with all the boards to secure the players and continues to work with them.”
The matches will be played at the world-class cricket facilities in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.
Incedentally, five of the six teams in ILT20 are owned by Indians.
Talking to IANS, Rajesh Sharma, Founder-Director, Capri Global Holdings, which owns Sharjah Warriors, said, “When one thinks of the UAE, one thinks of the word ‘Majestic’. The country is awe-inspiring in every way. It is the land of opportunity and the ILT20 is similar in that sense. The players and support staff from different nationalities will come together to face-off in a high-intensity tournament for a month. It caters to three major markets, MENA, South Asia and Europe, thereby connecting fans from across the world, making it a wonderful, packaged opportunity for global sponsors and local entities.”
Asked what sort of returns he is looking at from this league, Sharma said, “One doesn’t need to look far in terms of successful team ownership models. The IPL too, when it started, was deemed a risky proposition. Risk and reward are obviously part of both business and sports. Having said that, given all the elements the country, the league, and the venues have to offer, we are confident that the investments will pay rich dividends in the time to come.”
In October last year, Sheikh Nahyan Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence, and Chairman of the Emirates Cricket Board, had unveiled the ILT20 trophy at a stakeholders’ event.
Designed and manufactured by world-renowned trophy maker, Thomas Lyte from England, the silver trophy brings together influences that reflect the UAE’s rich heritage and culture. Leading the trophy to this effect is the national bird – the falcon – pointing to the seven Emirates, the incredible sand dunes, and the UAE’s most famous landmark, the Burj Khalifa. The trophy measures 830 mm, representing the height of the Burj Khalifa, which is 830 metres.
Subhan Ahmed, CEO of ILT20, said, “The UAE has an international infrastructure for cricket. We have been organising leagues of other countries in the UAE, be it IPL, PCL, or the T20 World Cup. So why shouldn’t we have our own league? ILT20 will be great for the local cricket talent in the UAE.”
Ahmed said that there are 52 cricket grounds in the UAE where local tournaments are held.
“Keeping local cricket in mind, we have given place to four local players in each ILT20 team, which will encourage and motivate the rest of the local talent to do better. ILT20 is clashing with some other leagues in the ICC calendar and some players are not free due to their respective board’s calendar, but this is just a start. Things will be easier from the next season onwards,” he said.
Big names who have have joined the league include Andre Russell, Trent Boult, Shimron Hetmyer, Sunil Narine, Kieron Pollard, Alex Hales, Moeen Ali, Chris Jordan, Dawid Malan, Mohammad Nabi, Nicholas Pooran, Dasun Shanaka, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, and Wanindu Hasaranga, among others. Former cricketers like Robin Uthappa, Wasim Akram, Nikhil Chopra, Harbhajan Singh, Virender Sehwag, Mohammad Azharuddin and Anjum Chopra will be seen in the commentary box.
Former India spinner Harbhajan Singh said, “It is a big step for UAE cricket to have its own league. The country has hosted three IPLs and knows how to organise a big ticket event. Big congratulations to UAE cricket and ILT20.”