After 73 matches and nine weeks, the Indian Premier League final was played on May 29. It was won by one of the two new teams, Gujarat Titans, who finished top of the table, qualifying automatically for the final.
In this, they convincingly beat Rajasthan Royals, who finished second but reached the final by virtue of beating the third-placed team Lucknow Super Giants, and fourth-placed Royal Challengers Bangalore, in eliminating matches.
Present in India for the end of the tournament was the International Cricket Council chairman, who is of the view that India should be thanked, rather than vilified, for developing T20 cricket to the level of skill and entertainment now on show.
However, he does recognize that the growth and expansion of T20 cricket will further squeeze an already congested cricket calendar. One element in this process could be the proposed UAE T20 franchise league, licensed by the Emirates Cricket Board.
Although no specific start date has been confirmed, franchisees have already been lined up for the six on offer. They fall into two groups. Three of them have existing IPL franchises. In November, Reliance Industries, which runs the Mumbai Indians in the IPL, announced its acquisition of a franchise, while the GMR Group, which shares ownership of the Delhi Capitals with JSW Group, announced its involvement in February.
On May 13, the Knight Riders Group, announced its participation. It already runs the Kolkata Knight Riders franchise in the IPL, along with the Trinbago Knight Riders in the Caribbean Premier League and is the founder promoter of Major League Cricket in the US. Thus, KRG is a major player in T20 franchise cricket and is seeking to broaden its involvement via the Abu Dhabi team franchise in UAE T20.
The other three companies all bid successfully for the two new IPL franchises in 2022. One was Lancer Capital, owned by Manchester United co-chairman Avram Glazer, the second Indian finance firm Capri Global, and in early May, the England and Wales Cricket Board confirmed that the Adani Group, based in Ahmedabad, had acquired a franchise. It is understood that between $40 million and $60 million have been paid for each of the franchises, spread over 10 years.
Given the limited number of both players and spectators in the UAE, the new tournament will be dependent on its ability to attract top-quality international cricketers and live media coverage. So, its timing will be vital.
The summer heat of more than 40 degrees Celsius between May and August rules out those months, while April and May are taken up by the IPL. The Australian Big Bash League is set to run through December until the end of January. This coincides with the time when temperatures in the UAE are around 24 degrees Celsius. It also coincides with the Bangladesh Premier League, scheduled between Jan. 3 and Feb. 17, 2023, not to mention the Pakistan Super League between Feb. 15 and March 31.
Another factor to consider is the Abu Dhabi T10 tournament, which took place in October and November. If the same dates are maintained, then it is hard to resist the conclusion that the space for the UAE T20 lies within the time that the Bangladesh Premier League is due to take place – mid-January to mid-February. During this time, because of the Big Bash, some Australians would be ruled out, but Pakistanis, depending on national commitments, would not be, likewise English cricketers. Indian cricketers outside of the international teams – and there are many talented ones – would also be available, depending upon the scheduling of domestic competitions.
Thirty-four matches are planned to be played over 25 days. It is reported that each team will have a salary cap of around $2 million and players may earn up to $300,000, tax free. In addition to this, the three venues that are likely to be used – the Dubai International Stadium, the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, and the Sharjah Cricket Stadium – all have proven pedigree as world-class venues which have hosted international and IPL cricket.
With franchises in place, a media deal was announced on May 24. The UAE T20 League has signed a long-term global media rights’ contract to air the league on the channels and over-the-top platform of ZEE in India and around the world to almost 200 countries. Live streaming will be via ZEE5 and on global radio. This will be crucial in helping to build reach and awareness, especially in the Indian market, where the time difference with the UAE is only one-and-a-half hours.
As discussed in an earlier column, a change of policy toward younger, home-grown talent was adopted by the Emirates Cricket Board in 2019-20. The introduction of UAE T20 will enhance this policy by providing an additional platform for this talent to learn from and watch established international cricketers.
This week, the UAE team is playing in America in League 2 of the qualification process for the 2023 one-day international world cup. On Tuesday, in a close contest, it lost to Scotland, which had been surprisingly beaten by the US on May 28 but recovered to avenge that result on May 29. The UAE has another match against Scotland on Friday, and the US on June 4.
These contests will shape the positions at the head of League 2. Currently, Oman leads the way but has played 32 of its 36 matches. Scotland and the UAE are in second and third places, followed by the US, each having played only half of their matches. Since the top three teams will progress to the next stage, the pressure is on.
The UAE men’s team has already booked its place in the T20 World Cup tournament later this year. It has its sights on progress in the ODI World Cup qualifying and has a new franchise tournament in prospect that will enhance both its local talent pool and its presence in international cricket. The overall strategy is clear.