Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 14 December 2019

No Shahid Afridi, no problem as Abu Dhabi T10 makes its mark

Crowd of 20,352 watched the final to prove ambitions for the tournament are well founded

The organisers of the first Aldar Properties Abu Dhabi T10 were rightly furious when Pakistan’s cricket board went back on its word and withdrew its players not long before its start.

This is designed to be one of the new jewels in the capital’s sporting calendar. That is why it has government backing for at least a five-year term.

Its backers are confident it will become a popular standalone event, no matter which players – Pakistani, Indian, English – come to play in the future.

But that is the future. This was, for Abu Dhabi at least, a pilot edition. One that could really have done with the likes of Mohammed Amir, Shahid Afridi and Wahab Riaz headlining – as was initially agreed.

So, how did it go without them? A pulsating crowd of 20,352 that watched the final on the first evening of the working week was testament to the fact the ambitions for this tournament are well founded.

Pakistani stars or no Pakistani stars, the appetite is clearly there.

It is easy to be sniffy about another truncated version of cricket. T10, for many lovers of the sport, is beyond the pale. Fair enough.

But what about those who actually went along to watch? Even on days when the crowd was far smaller than that of the final, those who were there were clearly taking great joy from what they were seeing.

This is a version of the game that so many in this country can relate to. More people here play tape-ball cricket than organised cricket.

Those are 10-over matches, played every Friday morning, in the street and car parks, everywhere from the lee of the Burj Al Arab, to empty spaces in industrial zones, to beside the corniche in Khor Fakkan.

The methods those players employ – bowl as fast as possible, hit the ball as far as possible – are similar to what they saw at the Zayed Cricket Stadium over the past two weeks.

Fittingly, one of the champions of the first Abu Dhabi T10 was one of their own.

Shiraz Ahmed was a nobody before this tournament started. Up until September, he was getting 5am alarm calls in his room in staff accommodation in Jebel Ali’s industrial zone before heading out to his job as a storekeeper.

Two months later, he was winning praise from some of the biggest names in cricket for the quality of his left-arm pace bowling.

Dawid Malan, the world’s third-highest ranked T20 batsman, said his yorkers were impossible to get away.

Dwayne Bravo, captain of the champion Maratha Arabians side, said he was the standout bowler in their title-winning attack. Coach Andy Flower had warm words, too.

And this for a player who has not yet featured in the UAE team, even. If Shiraz is not selected in the squad for the one-day internationals against Scotland and United States next month, then UAE cricket really has lost the plot.

By the end of the tournament, he had his own choreographed wicket celebration, and was regularly high-fiving a teammate, Yuvraj Singh, who was on an appearance fee worth $200,000 (Dh 735,000).

Which leads on to Yuvraj, and the idea of “international community promoter" players in the T10.

According to a press release which variously referred to him as “the star attraction”, “cricket superstar”, and “legendary,” Yuvraj’s presence more than doubled the Television Rating Point back in India. That is the share of the TV audience watching the competition.

So the $40,000 he got for each match he played – or $4,000 per over in the field, or $4,545 per run scored - was clearly money well spent, right?

The Indian Premier League, after all, was built on celebrity as much as it was cricketing excellence. And that is the gold standard for franchise leagues. So just having him here at all was more than justified.

That said, there is a fine line to tread between artifice designed to attract eyeballs to the tournament, and maintaining the spirit of competition.

This tournament started with a rule stating each team had to have one international community promoter player, such as Yuvraj or Zaheer Khan, in their squad, and that they must play at least three matches.

Official team-sheets had a footnote saying as much, but the rule was binned at some unspecified time near the start of the tournament.

So the likes of Pravin Tambe, who was the ICP player for Northern Warriors, did not even make an appearance.

Paras Khadka was one such player, too, as Team Abu Dhabi sagely tapped in to the passion for the game in Nepal by recruiting the country’s most-loved player.

The fact he was rarely-spotted on screen – limited to three matches, and having little chance to impress in those – went down badly back at home.

Some supporters were threatening to start a campaign to “Bring Back Paras” so put out were they by his lack of game-time.

And this is perhaps one flaw of the internationalised T10 league. Ten-over matches, because of their brevity, only really permit a few players to shine per game.

Yuvraj’s fans would no doubt have liked to have seen more of him – back injury notwithstanding. Paras’ were vocal in demanding more of him, too.

But if a player is on the sort of burner that Chris Lynn, for example, rode throughout the tournament, a side can’t realistically alter its formation, just to give Yuvraj, say, more air time. It is only correct that they don't.

So some supporters will be left unsatisfied, until such point that they feel an affiliation to a team as much as they do a player.

The T10 league is still some way off that. Remarkably, Maratha Arabians are the only one of the eight participating sides that still exists in its same form from the first edition of the tournament three years ago.

And yet, while affiliations may still be loose, the evidence of this weekend suggests that the competition could yet be set for a bright future.

Updated: November 25, 2019 01:34 PM

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