x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Kerala Premier League raises its game ahead of the second season

The IPL-styled Twenty20 competition, starting this week, expands the number of teams and first-class players from south Asia, writes Amith Passela.

Saqib Ali, in action for the UAE this month, will once again play for the Kannur Veerans. Jake Badger / The National
Saqib Ali, in action for the UAE this month, will once again play for the Kannur Veerans. Jake Badger / The National

The Indian Premier League (IPL) has revolutionised the Twenty20 format and has spawned imitation tournaments all over the world.

The Kerala Premier League has taken the lead in the Middle East. It will be staged for the second time when play starts next week in Dubai, with several cricketers with first-class experience flying in to play.

Saqib Ali, the UAE all-rounder, played for Kannur Veerans as they won the inaugural title last year.

He has been retained by them for a tournament that has expanded from eight to 12 teams this year. Games will take place at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium and the adjoining ICC Global Cricket Academy grounds from Friday until December 2.

"It is well organised and we get to play good cricket with each team allowed to bring in two overseas players," Saqib said.

"The competition is very high. The players also receive financial benefits. Such perks are important to draw the best talent in the country because players need to get some financial incentive for their hard work.

"It also provides some of the youngsters in the UAE an opportunity to play at the top level and this experience will surely benefit them when they graduate to the UAE national team.

"Since the advent of the IPL, the T20 game has become the most popular [format]. The KPL has become an instant hit in the UAE and it can only get better from now."

Saqib will be joined by his UAE teammates Khurram Khan, Arshad Ali, Amjad Javed, Ahmed Raza and Vikrant Shetty, who will all play for the Kannur Veerans.

The competition rules state each team must have three players from the Indian state of Kerala, who have UAE residency visas, and one under 22 player based in the UAE, which has provided some opportunities to talented youngsters.

"They surely will benefit from the experience," Saqib said. "The UAE are trying to pick a squad for the Under 19 World Cup which will be staged in the Emirates in 2014 and this is great opportunity for those players to showcase their talents."

Shivank Vijaykumar, a 17-year-old wicketkeeper batsman from the Zayed Cricket Academy in Abu Dhabi, is one of those hopefuls along with Aditya Mavuru and Sarath Sreekantan Nair, who will all play for the Kasargod Leopards.

"I am thrilled to be in one of the franchises and hope I get an opportunity to play," said Vijaykumar, who qualifies both as an U22 and as a Keralite residing in the UAE.

"This is a big step forward for me. I am looking forward to the experience of playing alongside some of the established players in the country and the contracted players from abroad. And soak as much as possible from this IPL-like atmosphere competition in Dubai."

Vijaykumar's ambition is to play for the UAE at the U19 World Cup. He also plays for the Emirates Cricket Board Blues in domestic competitions and has already represented the UAE in the U19 age group.

One of the most well-known oversees players confirmed for the tournament is Kaushalya Weeraratne, who has played 15 ODIs and five T20 internationals for Sri Lanka.

The 31-year-old all-rounder will play for Palakkad Harvestors. Wayanad Highlanders have picked five Afghanistan internationals - Mohammad Nabi, Samiullah Shenwari, Gulbodin Naib, Mohammad Shahzad and Dawlat Zadran - who all have UAE residency visas.

The teams will battle it out for a slice of the Dh185,000 prize money with Dh70,000 for the winners and the KPL is also aiming to replicate some of the glamour of the IPL with cheerleaders and a cinema stars match between a Directors XI and the Actors Kerala on December 1, on the eve of the final at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium.

apassela@thenational.ae

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