x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Kerala Premier League not just for entertainment

Professionalism, quality of cricket and player remuneration drove organisers to launch it, writes Amith Passela.

Kaushalya Weeraratne, who played for the Palakkad Harvestors, was Kerala Premier League's most high-profile player this year. Jaime Puebla / The National
Kaushalya Weeraratne, who played for the Palakkad Harvestors, was Kerala Premier League's most high-profile player this year. Jaime Puebla / The National

A casual discussion about cricket among a group of Kerala businessmen led to the concept of the Kerala Premier League, which has now bloomed into the biggest domestic competition in the UAE.

The first two years of the Twenty20 tournament, modelled on the Indian Premier League, have been a great success, with plenty of fans watching games in Dubai.

Having started with eight teams last year, the second season saw the number increase to 12. It is expected to rise to 16 next year, representing all 16 districts in Kerala. "The first year was a trial and now the plan is to expand the KPL beyond Dubai, perhaps with games played in Sharjah and Abu Dhabi," said Paul Joseph, chairman of the KPL.

"The concept was born in one of our business group get-togethers. It took just a month to discuss and finalise all matters of staging the inaugural KPL," he said.

"All of us in this group had played cricket at some level when we were schooling and had the passion for the sport. That made it easier for us to go ahead with the plans."

The KPL also have received backing from the Kerala state government and the involvement of the Kerala Tourism Department as one of the sponsors in both seasons.

"One of the objectives of the KPL is to provide the players with a quality tournament and provide them with some kind of remuneration to encourage and reward them for the hard work," Joseph said.

"We have set the platform to bring in some kind of professionalism to the domestic game and I think it is already well received by both, the players and the administrators."

Joseph, who has been living in the UAE for more than 30 years, is the founding owner of the AAA Middle East, which provides roadside assistance to vehicles.

"With two successful stagings of the KPL, we are now looking ahead long term. We have already started work on the next staging and looking at all possibilities of expanding it beyond Dubai," he said.

The KPL has been a hit with the best players, too.

"It is the best thing that has happened to cricket in the country," Saqib Ali, the UAE all-rounder, said.

"It is not only providing quality matches but the players are finally getting rewarded. Obviously, this tournament has now thrown in a challenge for players to compete for a place in any KPL franchise, which certainly is a big step forward."

Kaushalya Weeraratne, who played for Sri Lanka in 15 ODIs and five T20s, was the tournament's biggest name.

"For me, it is business as usual but it is a tournament that provides good experience for the local cricketers," said Weeraratne, who won the MVP award of the KPL 2012.

A KPL team must include three players from Kerala, of which one has to be under the age of 22, and all with valid UAE residence visas. Two overseas players are allowed and the rest are selected from the clubs around the country.

Mohamed Lokhandwala, the honorary general secretary of the Dubai Cricket Council, said the players in the first season earned between Dh5,000 and Dh6,000 and this year more than Dh10,000.

Palakkad Harvestors, one of the four new teams to appear this year, walked away with the winner's cheque of Dh100,000.

"It is good money for those who never got paid in the domestic matches before," Lokhandwala said. "Here we are not only talking about the money the players receive but the quality of cricket they get to play."

apassela@thenational.ae

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