Cricket might be set for a bright new dawn in Sharjah this week, when the first tournament is played in the format of 10-overs-per side. Or T10 cricket might just be consigned straight to the file marked: “Well, it seemed a good idea at the time …”
Only time will really tell. The creators of it have ambitions for it to go global, spawning leagues of similar length elsewhere, and for matches to be played between the leading teams at international level.
Those are bolder ambitions than Twenty20 ever had when it was set up as a bid to win back families, as well as new supporters, to English county cricket 14 years ago. And look what has happened there.
The T10 League, taking place at Sharjah Cricket Stadium from December 14 to 17, has solid financial backing. Some of the leading players in the game, including five current international captains, are playing. So what can we expect?
How many runs will be scored?
Clearly, it is difficult to know what a good score will be in T10. When the first official innings of T20 took place in England in 2003, Hampshire scored 153.
No-one knew whether that was good, bad, or indifferent, but it felt like a lot at the time. Even 14 years on, that would probably pass as a par score in T20 on many grounds, particularly if the pitch is slow, as in Sharjah.
The most rudimentary gauge for predicting a decent 10-over score might be just to halve the standard T20 score. Of course, batsmen will now be looking to minimise the time used up on dot balls and singles even further than they do already in the 20-over game, but presumably the bowlers will have a few tricks stored up, too.
Will the scoring rate per delivery be much greater than in T20? It remains to be seen.
Is Sharjah a high scoring ground?
Traditionally Sharjah is regarded as tough for bowlers, given the rock-hard, bone-dry nature of the central wicket. However, scoring is not that easy, either, with the general characteristics of a low bounce and slow outfield.
The 12 T20 internationals that have been played there to date have seen 3,339 runs scored off 2,783 balls, which is a run-rate of 1.19 per delivery that is bowled. In a 10-over match, that would equate to a total of around 72.
It is a generally consistent tally for T20 matches in Sharjah. In matches played there during the 2016 Pakistan Super League, 2,500 runs were scored off 2,076 balls – so 1.2 per ball. Translating directly to 10 overs, that is also around 72.
Who might be the players to watch?
Well, Mohammed Amir was the first draft pick. Those who did the recruiting at Maratha Arabians believe the Pakistan pace bowler’s thriftiness, as proved in T20 cricket over the past two years in particular, will be crucial.
“I think is that T10 will be all about bowling,” Wasim Akram, the Arabians’ team mentor, said. “The best team will be the team with the better bowling attack. That is why Amir was the pick, because he bowls a good yorker, and he has got pace.”
Dougie Brown, the Arabians’ coach, said: “He is an outstanding death bowler, and you would suggest that in a 10-over competition, two overs per bowler is going to be two overs of death.”
Elsewhere, Imad Wasim is miserly with the ball, and can hit big with the bat. Fakhar Zaman was the first batsman picked, which is a nod to his remarkable emergence over the past two years. Carlos Brathwaite has six appeal. Alex Hales will be wanting to return to form on the cricket field. There is no shortage of stars.
Is it creating interest?
There has certainly been a buzz about the new format, not least because many of the leading Pakistani players are involved. The organisers are confident Sharjah Stadium will be packed.
The absence of any Indians of note, other than Virender Sehwag, means a sizable chunk of the potential market are barely aware of the format’s existence, though.
And retaining interest on the match days could be a struggle. The idea behind 10-over matches was that they will be completed within 90 minutes, along similar lines to other major international sports like football and rugby.
When the fixtures were released for the opening tournament, though, there were four matches listed per day – meaning seven-and-a-half-hour days.
From the evidence of the past in the PSL – and even at football’s ongoing Fifa Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi – double headers can be a tough sell.
Enthusiasm for one match can turn to ambivalence – and then absence – for the other, and thus empty seats. If that is the case for two matches back-to-back, then what about four?