The UAE, which has hosted the T20 World Cup, IPL and a T10 league in recent years, is now set to host its own T20 league, the International League T20 (ILT20). Here is everything you need to know about the youngest franchise league on the circuit.
When is the ILT20 taking place, and where?
The inaugural ILT20, sanctioned by the Emirates Cricket Board, will be played between six teams across three venues - Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi in the UAE - from January 13 to February 12. Dubai Capitals, Abu Dhabi Knight Riders, MI Emirates, Sharjah Warriors Gulf Giants and Desert Vipers are the six franchises that will compete for the title.
Sounds like the IPL?
Three of the league's six franchises are owned by IPL owners - Mumbai Indians, Delhi Capitals and Kolkata Knight Riders - which gives you a sense of familiarity, but the ILT20 is different to the IPL. Each playing XI can have a maximum of nine overseas players with at least two UAE players, and two Associate overseas players in the squad, not in the XI. The demand for overseas players has even ruffled the feathers of Full Member nations, who fear the latest league has the potential to disrupt global cricket's ecosystem.
Will stats from the ILT20 count towards players' T20 records?
Nope. According to the ICC's regulations, competitions hosted by non-Full Members - UAE in this case - cannot be attributed T20 status. Earlier Canada's T20 league, the Global T20 Canada, was not granted T20 status for the same reason. Ditto for the Fairbreak International, a women's T20 competition that was held in Dubai in 2022.
Sri Lankans Wanindu Hasaranga, Matheesha Pathirana, Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Chamika Karunaratne will also be in action in the Emirates. A couple of Indians will also be featuring in the league: Robin Uthappa and Yusuf Pathan. Both players had retired from international and Indian cricket to become free agents. Impactful performances for Dubai could potentially open up opportunities to break into other franchise leagues. Uthappa has already expressed his desire to play in the CPL and the Hundred.
Among the Associate players, watch out for Namibia left-arm quick Ruben Trumpelmann, who struck three times in the first over against Scotland in the T20 World Cup in Abu Dhabi in 2021. Netherlands allrounder Bas de Leede is also back in the UAE, having turned out for Samp Army in the Abu Dhabi T10 league late last year.
Are there any Pakistani players in the ILT20?
Nah. Azam Khan, the son of former Pakistan wicketkeeper Moin, was originally unveiled by Vipers as one of their players, but he didn't receive an NOC from the PCB to participate in the ILT20. There is no Pakistani presence in the SA20 as well. It is worth noting that the eighth edition of the PSL is tentatively scheduled to start just days after the ILT20 ends in February 2023.
Okay, tell me about the UAE players who could make a splash
Quick wristspinner Karthik Meiyappan (Sharjah Warriors) whose googly turns more than his legbreak is the most exciting talent among the UAE players. In addition to having stints with Chennai Super Kings and Royal Challengers Bangalore as a net bowler in the IPL in the UAE, Karthik has done well in the local Emirates D20 tournament.
Then there is Zahoor Khan (MI Emirates) who has also had exposure outside of the UAE. The fast bowler was recently with Kandy Falcons in the Lanka Premier League (LPL) and was previously associated with Mumbai Indians as an IPL net bowler.
The ILT20 is also Vriitya Aravind's chance to develop his white-ball game even further. The Chennai-born wicketkeeper-batter was the second-highest run-getter in ODI cricket last year, with 781 runs in 21 innings at an average of 41.10 and strike rate of 72.71. Vriitya can also play the funky scoops, but his T20 batting is still a work in progress. He is looking forward to picking Nicholas Pooran's brain at MI Emirates.
Any left-field picks by franchises? Joe Root is playing, we hear...
Former England captain Joe Root has made a rare foray into the global T20 circuit, winning deals with Capitals (ILT20) and Royals (IPL) last year. He last played a T20I almost four years ago, but has been keen to expand his range in the shortest format.
In the injury-enforced absence of Jonny Bairstow, Knight Riders have roped in Connor Esterhuizen as a replacement player. The Lions wicketkeeper-batter, who did not get a gig in the SA20, has played just a solitary T20 and four List A matches so far. Knight Riders have also plucked out spinner Treveen Mathew from Sri Lanka's Under-19 circuit. Mathew, 18, had reportedly been called up by Rajasthan Royals for a trial ahead of the IPL 2023 auction, but he eventually failed to make the shortlist.
Is it really the second-most lucrative T20 league in the world?
Yes, it offers top players a whopping USD 450,000 per season, making it the second-most lucrative T20 league for some players outside of the IPL. The maximum salary a player can get - what the league calls the "total direct payout" - is USD 450,000. The "total direct payout" is the sum of the wage slot plus a loyalty bonus. For example, a player picked for the highest wage slot of USD 340,000 can get a maximum of a further USD 110,000 as a loyalty bonus should the franchise want to trigger that clause.
It clashes with the BBL, BPL, SA20 and the Super Smash, right?
Indeed. It directly clashes with four other T20 competitions in what is perhaps the busiest window of 2023. New Zealand will tour India and England will travel to South Africa in January, but the ILT20 has managed to attract some big names. England's Dawid Malan and Zimbabwe's Sikandar Raza will also cut their BPL stints short to make themselves available for the UAE league.