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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

T10 League: The Great Khali, sponsored dot balls ... oh and a game of cricket

Paul Radley reports from Sharjah on the surreal event that was the first ever game of T10 cricket

This was cricket, but not as we know it. Its creators had promised as much. The first night of T10 cricket always had the potential to be a surreal event. It did not disappoint.

Dancers parading the field in zorbs beforehand. Performers on stilts. Gymnasts. Ten overs per team. Sponsored dot balls. Afghan teenagers dismissing the (Irish-born) England captain.

By the time The Great Khali, the India-born former WWE wrestler and sometime Hollywood movie star, settled in to watch the first game, just beyond the boundary at mid-wicket, it felt just about normal.

Behind him was the newly upgraded “celebrity stand”, tickets for which are the top priced at this competition, at Dh500.

Those sat behind a man who is 7ft 1ins and approximately 157kgs might have been questioning the merit of forking out top whack to be there after a while. They would almost certainly have been questioning what exactly was happening in the cricket.

Sharjah Cricket Stadium has staged Indian Premier and Pakistan Super League cricket in the past, so is used to putting on lavish, showy “cricketainment,” with a heavy accent on commerce.

Yet in the days leading up to the first T10 League, the ground’s administrators warned that they were dealing with something on a different scale.

And so it was. Every nook of the UAE’s oldest cricket venue was daubed in branding, including the thin pillars holding up the stands.

Even the play, as maybe has become standard in cricket’s shortest forms, felt as much of an advert as it did competition.

For example, surely this is the first cricket league ever to have sponsored dot balls. When no run is scored, it is termed an “Alubond Dot Ball”. Alubond is the company run by Shaji Ul Mulk, the T10 League’s founder.

Fours and sixes, it seems, are prosaic by comparison. They were both clumped together, and termed “Sapil Solid Shots”.

This was a step into the unknown for everyone. What would be a good score? Would people turn up? Would they tune in?

Kerala Kings captain Eoin Morgan won the first toss, and opted to bowl – and thus shifted the responsibility for working out what a good score would be onto Bengal Tigers. They reached 86-1 from the end of their 10 overs.

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The fact Kerala managed as many as 20 of them from their 10 overs with the ball might have been the defining feature of the match.

We know now that 86 was not a good score, seeing as Kerala chased it down with two overs to spare.

Paul Stirling was the star of the chase. The Irishman had made a brilliant century here the last time cricket was played at this ground.

Ireland beat Afghanistan to claim a series win on Sunday. Stirling might well have delayed preparations for the T10 League by way of his batting that day, as he smacked a number of sixes into the wet cement of the celebrity stand.

He was straight back into the same groove, clubbing a brutal 66 not out from 27 balls as Kerala notched the first win in T10 cricket.