Indian players add cross-border appeal to T10 League 2.0

Shahid Afridi took the T10 format's first hat-trick in his first over Francois Nel/Getty Images

By the time the second edition of the T10 League kicks off in Sharjah on Wednesday, one could excuse the sigh of relief from chairman Shaji ul Mulk and his team.

The league supremo has doggedly defended a tournament already dogged by issues over the course of a testing few months. The problems have been indiscriminate, from internal spats to disputes with other boards and, lately, court orders. But T10 2.0 will roll out the red carpet for its stars defiantly, "bigger and better" than last year's debut, they say.

Things were complicated 12 months ago, but looking back now, those early stages feel like nostalgic memories of a simpler time.

Then, there was intrigue about a new format, and how it could fit on a swelling calendar of franchise leagues. Was football's standardised length of 90 minutes the key to making T10 cricket's true gateway drug for the uninitiated? Could it be just the fix that the International Olympic Committee craved in order to make users out of the USA and China - markets the sport's deal-makers chase so fervently?

Those questions remained unanswered, but a consistently sold-out Sharjah and a pool of players heaping praise on the format were, to say the least, encouraging for the inaugural edition. At the least, it provided momentum to proceedings and showed enough promise for the tournament to bulk up for a second season.

The star names have returned alongside a number of fresh faces. Two new franchises have been added, one has been rebranded, and the number of games have increased from 13 to 29 at the flick of a switch.

It is heartening growth for a league that always anticipated teething problems, but the T10 has quickly discovered that fitting in with the crowd isn't easy.

The resignation of Salman Iqbal as President - replete with a truly modern scathing on Twitter - kicked off a trying period for the organisers. Ehsan Mani's arrival as the PCB head brought with it concerns over the participation of the country's players.

Then, just last week, a Pakistan court order barred media organisations in Pakistan from promoting the T10. It was a result of a dispute over the naming rights of the Karachians franchise, instigated by Iqbal in the name of protecting his Pakistan Super League interests as Karachi Kings owner.

The T10 accepted the court's terms this week, triggering a hasty search for a new franchise title just days out from the competition's start. It's the latest - and Shaji will hope last - in a series of unsavoury episodes playing out in the background of the build-up to the tournament's sequel. But Shaji has pressed ahead undeterred.

Those court concessions were preceded by the league working out their differences with the PCB to ensure the participation of Pakistan players. The powers that be also secured the services of India players; no easy feat given the political minefield of relations between Pakistan and India. Doubters will point to the fact the India players are retired or ageing, but any league bringing together Zaheer Khan, Shahid Afridi, Virender Sehwag and Shoaib Malik will have cross-border appeal.

Throw in as well the likes of Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum, Eoin Morgan, Shane Watson, Rashid Khan, Sandeep Lamichhane, Jofra Archer, Morne Morkel and Lasith Malinga. For local cricket, each squad once again will feature two UAE players, serving as a bittersweet experience given this week's news that the country's plans for a T20 franchise tournament of its own have been shelved.

For fans, this all adds up to plenty of things to remain excited about. The quality of the product on the pitch is what T10 will be judged by most crucially.

And it seems commercial interest remains piqued. A new title sponsor has been sourced and Shaji is aiming to entice over 100 million viewers across an extended broadcast schedule that airs in India, Pakistan, the Middle East and North Africa.

If the action in Sharjah can replicate the fireworks of the past few months, all will be fine. There will certainly be more than enough entertainment to fix those eyeballs on proceedings.