DUBAI // There are plenty of reasons to attend the fourth Emirates Airline Twenty20 at The Sevens rugby ground on Friday, but few will be as compelling as the opportunity to watch Rahul Dravid pick up a bat for the first time in almost a year.
The former India captain and bona fide modern-day batting great, who retired from international cricket last year, will appear for the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) in the annual tournament.
Dravid, here again after playing last year, is the biggest draw among a host of stars as Sussex, Lancashire, the MCC as well as the local Fly Emirates XI, for which a number of UAE players will also be appearing.
"As long as they don't have someone bowling quick and bowling bouncers I don't mind," he said at the launch of the tournament on Thursday. "I haven't played since the IPL [Indian Premier League] last year, so this will be the first game in eight months.
"I'm looking forward to putting the pads on and playing. It's a lovely amateur atmosphere, but with competitive cricket."
With the county sides treating this as part of their regular extended preparations for the English season, the standard of play will likely be high.
The quality of players here almost ensures it. Alongside Dravid will be former Proteas international and MCC captain Dale Benkenstein, the stalwart Lancashire captain Glen Chapple, Rory Hamilton-Brown and Ed Joyce of Sussex, plus Steve Kirby and Peter Trego of MCC.
Local participation comes in the shape of the full-time airline employees who form the Fly Emirates XI. They are not there to make up the numbers, however. The team beat South Africa's Cape Cobras to win the inaugural tournament in 2010.
"The tournament's extremely important for us as we're all full-time employees and a few of us represent the UAE national team, but it's extremely good exposure for them," said Shoeb Muljiani, the team manager. "We won the inaugural tournament, and though in the last couple of years we've not reached the final, we'll put in our best. Learning is important, but winning silverware isn't bad either."
The MCC were in talks to rope in Irish international Trent Johnston for the event, but were ultimately denied permission by Cricket Ireland, who felt the bowler's recent workload in the UAE had been too heavy.
John Stephenson, head of cricket at MCC, is still happy that there is enough talent in the side.
"We're very excited to be part of this tournament and happy about the team we've put together," he said. "Over the last two years, we haven't progressed like we'd like to have done, but this year the team is up for it."
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