News Analysis

Moeen Ali tussle epitomises arms race as ILT20, SA20 compete for cricket's star names

Allrounder confirms he will join Sharjah Warriors in ILT20, despite signing for Joburg too

Moeen Ali is in high demand for franchise leagues around the world  •  Getty Images

Moeen Ali is in high demand for franchise leagues around the world  •  Getty Images

Moeen Ali has confirmed that he will be joining Sharjah Warriors in the International League T20 this winter, following a tussle for his signature that may yet result in him appearing in South Africa's new competition as well, the dates of which are set to overlap with the UAE-based franchise league.
Speaking on Wednesday, Graeme Smith, the league commissioner of South Africa's newly named SA20, acknowledged the England allrounder's complicated situation, given that he had been announced in the squads for both the Johannesburg Super Kings and the ILT20's Sharjah Warriors. Later the same afternoon, Moeen confirmed in an a announcement on Twitter that he would be choosing the Warriors as his primary destination.
"We have aligned on a strategy in terms of allowing the player to feel comfortable in terms of what he does and where he decides to play," Smith said when asked about Moeen. "I am dealing with the UAE league in that.
"I was in the UAE last week and met with them and that will play itself out over the next few days. We have agreed a way of handling it. There needs to be a way that both of us can co-exist.
"There is a relationship that's opened up there in terms of finding a way forward. I am looking forward to further engagements with the UAE league on that."
The uniqueness of Moeen's situation had centred on the agreements he entered into with both leagues. Having given commitments to both with an understanding he would pick the tournament he preferred, it turns out Moeen had signed directly with the Warriors. Thus, the ILT20 believed they have a greater claim to him than the SA20, given he had only signed with Cricket South Africa rather than a direct team. The issue was further complicated by the fact the Johannesburg team are a sister franchise of Chennai Super Kings, whom Moeen plays for in the Indian Premier League. Capri Global, who own the Warriors, are partners with IPL side Gujarat Titans.
It was confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that Smith spoke to Rob Key, England men's managing director, to enquire about the availability of England players during the SA20. There will be no restrictions on England players putting themselves forward for that or the ILT20 this season. The Test series against Pakistan concludes on December 21, though a white-ball tour of South Africa is scheduled for the end of January, just before the knockouts of the SA20.
There will be the usual provisos on managing workloads, though that will understandably be more on pace bowlers rather than batters. While there is also an England Lions tour to Sri Lanka mooted for the start of the year, it is understood taking players out of franchise commitments will be judged on a case-by-case basis. Players like Ben Duckett and Will Jacks could feel the pinch and may find themselves at a crossroads with their Test and white-ball ambitions, certainly in the short term.
The quandary, therefore, rests squarely on the players, and it is particularly fraught with indecision for those without central contracts, including England players who are not guaranteed of touring spots this winter. Many are having to hedge their bets, which explains why there is some crossover in names for both new tournaments. And while none are in the same position as Moeen, a handful are currently in the uncomfortable position of working out which competition they would rather let down.
Getting to this point has been something of an arms race for both of these competitions. Perhaps the most interesting development came when the ILT20 abandoned its original plan for a draft. With 12 overseas slots in their 18-member squads, organisers quickly realised CSA and the Big Bash League were further along the line with securing overseas interest. Thus the decision was made to fill rosters by approaching players directly and English players clearly benefitted, making up 25 of the 84 foreign players announced at the time of writing.
CSA have reacted by engaging in something of a charm offensive. There have been promises made in private of multi-year deals, regardless of which of the six teams pick them up, while Smith has used his clout and status to impress upon his equivalents at other boards that this T20 competition is the place to be. It has not all been charm from the former South Africa captain, however, who has not been afraid of administering a dressing-down to those he suspects are backtracking on earlier promises.
BBL administrators and coaches had similarly courted overseas talent on the sly. They remain the elephant in the middle: the most established but less assured of the three. Their fear that deals could be turned down by players if they were not selected in their preferred brackets was confirmed when Andre Russell pulled out when he was not picked up in the Platinum bracket (AUS$340,000). He, along with Faf du Plessis, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard and Jason Roy were ignored by teams because of availability, given the expectation they were to leave before the finals to take part in either the ILT20 or SA20.
The BBL still commands some real estate in the decisions players have to make. Though it pays the least of the three tournaments this winter, there remains a degree of hesitancy to ignore it completely, given it is the most established and, therefore, has the surer footing. Despite the sums of money pumped into the SA20 and ILT20, there is quiet anxiety as to how both will pan out in the future, exacerbated by the fact there are still no concrete dates for their inaugural seasons. Both are currently looking at running from the second week of January until early February.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor for ESPNcricinfo