Players from Pakistan, the West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe were among those who went under the hammer in the highest-profile auction yet for Afghanistan's domestic T20 league, the Shpageeza Cricket League, in Kabul on Thursday. Among the big international picks were Babar Azam, Umar Akmal, Kamran Akmal, Tamim Iqbal and Hamilton Masakadza, who will turn out for six franchises in the fifth edition of the tournament in July. The most-expensive buy was Afghanistan allrounder Gulbadin Naib, who was bought by Boost Defenders for USD 108,000.
The other five teams include Band-e-Amir Dragons, Mis Ainak Knights, Kabul Eagles, Speenghar Tigers and Amo Sharks. All the franchises are owned by leading Afghan business groups.
Pakistan pacers Sohail Tanvir and Rumman Raees were not far behind the most expensive buy, signed up by Band-e-Amir Dragons and Boost Defenders respectively for USD 105,000 approx. Other notable buys included Bangladesh's Imrul Kayes and Zimbabwe's Sean Williams. Salman Butt, who featured in the tournament last year, remained unsold this time.
"All matches will be held in Kabul, between July 18 and July 28," Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) CEO Shafiq Stanikzai told ESPNcricinfo. "The ICC has sanctioned this event, and is sending its own match referee to oversee the tournament. In addition, we will have one on-field umpire from the ICC panel."
The league will be broadcast on television in Afghanistan, and Stanikzai said the board is in talks to have it reach a wider audience. "It will be broadcast locally on one channel," he said. "The production company is Indian, but we are thinking of getting it on air in India and Pakistan as well. We are currently in negotiations, we haven't finalised the deal yet."
Afghanistan legspinner Rashid Khan and allrounder Mohammad Nabi, who had earned contracts with the IPL this year and impressed in the league, boosted Afghanistan's cricketing profile around the world. With Afghanistan now set to showcase its own T20 tournament, they hope it will announce their arrival on the big stage. "This tournament will be a mega-hit and will take Afghanistan cricket to new heights," ACB chairman Atif Mashal said. "This tournament will prove that we are the new cricketing force in the world."
The ACB tweeted the full squads for all the franchises after the auction, and they are as follows:
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000