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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

T10 League 2.0 set to build on first edition despite lingering issues

Season 2 of the 10-over tournament begins on Wednesday and while the build-up has been far from smooth sailing, confidence is high for a successful event

Rashid Khan, the world's top-ranked T20 bowler, is part of the star-studded line-up in Season 2 of the T20 League. Satish Kumar for The National
Rashid Khan, the world's top-ranked T20 bowler, is part of the star-studded line-up in Season 2 of the T20 League. Satish Kumar for The National

No one knew what to expect as the first ever 10-over, professional cricket league was ushered in in Sharjah 12 months ago.

Would anyone turn up? Would the cricket be an affront to sporting decency? Would the games be too short, or the days too long? What would be a good score? Would it fit the Olympics?

Scepticism was rife. Six players from one team alone opted out in the days leading up to it. Owners were making SOS calls to players around the world, whom they might not have known much better than an online biography, to see if they fancied a game.

Even the competition’s name – and all the related bunting and branding – had to be redone late in the day. All this was, once upon a time, supposed to be the Ten Cricket League, only for it to become the T10 League after a conflict over the naming rights.

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And, then, all really was all right on the night.

Better than all right, in fact. Way better. This was cricket. OK, not the way any of us had seen it before. But it was still cricket. And it was – whisper it – enjoyable.

The crowds were vast. Sharjah sold out twice in the four nights of matches, and went close on the other two, as well.

Even the Great Khali showed up. The 7ft 1in, Indian-born WWE wrestler and occasional Hollywood movie star knows a fair bit about entertainment himself. And he seemed to enjoy himself at cricket’s newest event.

Something must have gone right the last time, because all of the star turns are back, ready to deliver more this time around.

The presence of those originals has been bolstered by more of the game’s great and good, too. When the newly-expanded Season 2 starts on Wednesday night, the player roster will include the world’s No 1 ranked T20 bowler – Rashid Khan – as well as the man who has hit more T20 centuries than anyone else – Chris Gayle.

And the coach who has presided over more success than anyone else at the Indian Premier League, Stephen Fleming, will be in situ, as well.

The fact T10 League 2.0 starts in a better place than the first edition managed last year is unarguable. And that despite the challenges that have come its way in recent times.

Issues still remain. Kerala Kings, the defending champions are now – as of as recently as Sunday – known as the Kerala Knights instead.

When most of their players disembarked their planes from their various points of the globe, they might have been looking for a representative of the Kings, rather than Knights. The team’s twitter handle remains @KeralaKingsT10.

And players who thought they were representing a franchise known as Karachians had to train in their own clothes at their Tuesday training session. The team-issue gear was not quite ready for them, seeing as the team was now known as Sindhis instead.

All of which is the latest fall-out from the explosive rift between the original co-owners of the league. Salman Iqbal, the president last year, who also owns the Karachi Kings franchise in the Pakistan Super League, resigned.

His most recent action has been to move for an injunction which has prevented the T10 League having either the Karachi or Kings references they had originally planned.

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The Cricket Pod:

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On the eve of the second season, Shaji Ul Mulk, the T10 League’s founder and chairman, remained unfazed.

“It is an interim order, so what we are doing is temporarily changing the names,” Ul Mulk said. “The underlying factor is that Salman has been trying to create a campaign, always. He moved it in the high court there, and we were surprised, without calling or asking us, they put an injunction where there is a temporary stay and we can’t use the words.

“We didn’t have time to fight the case, it takes a while to fight, and we said, ‘OK, for this season, we will change the names, then continue to argue our case’.”

Ul Mulk is confident his concept can continue to thrive, despite the challenges faced of late.

“I’ve always said the league is bigger than any individuals,” he said. “The fact is the world bodies, as well as the top individuals and star cricketers, believe in the product, and we have answered properly every single negative question asked.

“I am proud of the team who has stuck behind this, especially all the franchise owners, who have said this is something to believe in and to take forward.”