x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Fantasy sport where victory is real

DUBAI // Cricket fans are blowing hundreds of millions of dollars snapping up top players in a buying frenzy that has gripped Dubai.

The sums being spent are pure fantasy, but the winner will walk away with the real-world sum of Dh8,000.

Hundreds of diehard enthusiasts have been swept up by the latest World Cup cricketing craze - a dream team fantasy tournament whose operation has its hub in a sports lounge in Bur Dubai.

Participants began bidding up to US$100 million in make-believe money for their chosen players a week before the Cricket World Cup began last month.

Each team notches up points based on runs scored and wickets taken by cricketers in the actual tournament in the subcontinent.

"It's a great concept because we had to carefully plan our strategy and select the best team," said Praksash Bhatia, a software manager who has named his dream team "Sure Shots".

"We did our research to pick the best bowlers and batsmen to balance our teams. Everyone is really competitive, and on match days, the atmosphere is awesome."

The recent tie between India and England saw participants flock to watch the match on large screens in Dubai's Citymax hotel.

"People were shouting for India, but they also backed English players because they have bought them and want them to perform," said Mr Bhatia.

At Dubai's first fantasy auction, the most sought player was India's batting supremo Sachin Tendulkar, who went under the hammer for a fantasy figure of $42m. Bidding wars also raged for the Australian all-rounder Shane Watson, the New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori and the Sri Lankan skipper Kumar Sangakkara.

Fans paid a Dh100 fee per team, and will win cash prizes if their fantasy team scores the highest points. The team that wins first prize walks away with Dh8,000 while the runner-up takes Dh5,000 and third place gets Dh3,000. Each of the five finalists will get a 32-inch plasma TV.

"More than winning the prize money, the competition is exciting," said Manish Mulchandani, an Indian businessman.

"First, we had to use the $100m wisely, and now it's fascinating to see how the cricketers we selected are actually performing."