x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Bringing the IPL to the UAE on a regular basis would benefit everyone involved

Success would depend on franchises and IPL benefiting from move as much as UAE would

Mumbai Indians fans cheer their team against the Kolkata Knight Riders during the opening Indian Premier League match at Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi on April 14, 2014. Ravindranath K / The National
Mumbai Indians fans cheer their team against the Kolkata Knight Riders during the opening Indian Premier League match at Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi on April 14, 2014. Ravindranath K / The National

Guaranteed stadium sell-outs, thousands more desperate fans hunting for tickets and millions around the world following on television and online.

It is not very often, indeed almost never, the UAE can claim such interest in a local sporting event, at least not in a team competition.

Yet less than a week after the finish of a 15-day Indian Premier League extravaganza, the country’s cricket-watching public is still buzzing.

In hindsight, the decision to bring the Twenty20 format with the world’s best players to these shores was hardly a risky experiment, especially considering the popularity of the sport among the country’s sizeable subcontinent community, and beyond. Yet it still exceeded all expectations and was an experience that left fans hungry for more.

For the sport in the UAE, the bar has been raised. Now there is talk of bringing here what in this part of the world would be Test cricket’s big one: India v Pakistan.

As eagerly anticipated as that clash would be, there is a feeling that a torch has been lit for the club game.

Globally, the IPL is here to stay. But could it be here to stay in the UAE?

Fans will be demanding more of the same: more two-week stretches along the lines of what just took place in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, or maybe a selection of matches that are spread across the season – sensibly on certain public holidays.

Or, more intriguingly, the introduction of a Dubai, Abu Dhabi or even UAE IPL franchise.

It might seem a little far-fetched, especially as the league has committed to not increasing the number of franchises and that foreign ownership may be a tricky issue.

But given the success of what we have just witnessed, even the most pragmatic of cricket followers would concede that it is an idea that might work.

Where there is a will, and guaranteed success, there is a way.

Nineteen of the 20 matches that were played out in the UAE were sell-outs. Ticket sales exceeded expectations, and there is much to suggest that a locally based franchise made up of some of the world’s best bowlers and batsmen would consistently attract similar devotion.

Crucially, flight times from India would ensure that the logistics of playing in the UAE are feasible, both in terms of travel and, as was shown last month, broadcasting matches.

In fact, television exposure was an unqualified success. That ratings were up on the same period last year is hardly a surprise.

The likes of MS Dhoni, Lasith Malinga, Kevin Pietersen and many others are box office gold – and not just for fans from Asia.

The IPL is now a hip competition. It is modernity, popularity and accessibility at once congruous with a worldwide audience of cricket fans. On Twitter and Facebook, the IPL has never been more popular.

For sponsors, as well as local authorities such as the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority or the Dubai Sports Council, it is practically a no-brainer.

During the past two decades, millions of dirhams have been spent on major international sporting events across the UAE.

The Etihad Airways Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the Dubai World Cup, tennis and golf tournaments in both cities, and the Volvo Ocean Race are all wonderfully high-profile events that attract the world’s best talent, not to mention its media and visitors.

But there is no denying that these remain, in a socio-economic sense and certainly in comparison to cricket, most appealing to a relatively exclusive audience.

An IPL franchise would be a whole new ball game. Cricket in Asia, perhaps more than football these days, remains essentially the sport of the working class, and therein lies its enduring popularity.

The success of such an idea would depend on these teams and the IPL benefiting from it as much as a UAE-based franchise would. Everyone connected to the IPL would need to be on board.

Now in its seventh season, the IPL is still a new enough competition that the introduction of a new franchise should not provoke the opposition that it would in a long-established league made up of teams with long histories.

You certainly would not hear any cricket fans in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah complaining.

akhaled@thenational.ae

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