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UAE T20 league sets $450,000 contract for top players

The team owners are bracing for intense competition for players from other T20 leagues

Reports have linked David Warner to the International League T20, which will likely clash with the BBL in Australia  •  AFP

Reports have linked David Warner to the International League T20, which will likely clash with the BBL in Australia  •  AFP

The UAE-based International League T20 (ILT20) is set to offer 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 league is sanctioned - but not owned* - by the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB), and is being spearheaded by a team led by ECB vice-chairman Khalid al Zarooni and the board's general secretary Mubashir Usmani. The league launches in January 2023 with an overall salary cap of potentially USD 2.5 million per team.
It is the prospect of this kind of money that has seen the league linked with the likes of David Warner who, according to reports, may skip Australia's BBL to play the ILT20 in the UAE.
For perspective, the highest-paid player in the IPL earns more than USD 2 million per season; in the PSL it is USD 200,000; the Hundred offers its best-paid player USD 164,000; and the most expensive overseas players in the BBL make about USD 238,000 per season.
The UAE league includes six franchises with 18-man squads and is scheduled to be played across the UAE between January 6 and February 12. Each team will play the others twice in a league stage, followed by four play-off matches for a total of 34 games.
Three of the six franchises in ILT20 have owners with teams in the IPL - Mumbai Indians, Kolkata Knight Riders and Delhi Capitals. The other three teams are owned by Lancer Capital, led by Avram Glazer, part of the ownership of Manchester United, Indian business conglomerate Adani Group, and Capri Global.
Though the league aims to provide exposure and unearth future UAE talent, it is in some ways the first, truly global league: each franchise can have up to 12 overseas players in an 18-man squad. At least three members in a squad will need to be UAE players, two from other Associates, as well as one Under-23 UAE player. A playing XI can have a maximum of nine overseas players along with at least one UAE and one Associate player.
According to a document that details the rules and regulations of the ILT20, seen by ESPNcricnfo, there are nine wage slots for players, with a top category pay-out of USD 340,000 and a lowest slot of USD 10,000.
The overall purse currently is USD 2.5 million, though this includes a "minimum wage bill" of USD 1.5 million and then the option for a franchise to pay up to USD 500,000 as a signing-on or loyalty bonus, and an additional USD $500,00 as bidding purse. Both the loyalty bonus, which is reserved only for direct signings, and the bidding purse are optional amounts.
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 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.
In the document, organisers detail player acquisition in two ways. The bulk of a squad will be picked through AUDRA, a unique, hybrid model based on a player draft as well as an auction. Up to five players can be acquired directly by a franchise, outside of AUDRA.
But franchises are understood to have now re-opened conversations with the league to consider allowing all overseas players to be signed directly and limit the auction to just the UAE players. This has come about as a result of the competition the franchises expect to face from the T20 league that Cricket South Africa plans to launch in the same window. In May, ESPNcricinfo revealed the salary cap in that league to be USD 1.5 million, the second-highest at the time. Other details of that league are not known yet, but given that all six franchises have been picked up by IPL owners, salaries are expected to be competitive.
The franchises have told the ILT20 organisers that they stand the best chance to acquire a wider pool of good players if they can negotiate directly with players, without having to pass through the AUDRA as originally planned. The teams have also said if that is allowed, the purse can be limited to USD 2 million comprising USD 1.5 million minimum wage bill and a USD 500,000 discretionary pot that can be utilised for certain players. The maximum salary cap of USD 450,000 will stay.
Officials involved in discussions point out that by allowing a direct signing, they can counter situations where a player can pull out after entering AUDRA, if he does not get the desired amount. As for the risk of whether the player could decline if he is not happy with the amount on offer during the direct talks with the franchise, one official said that he would still have more options to choose from rather than waiting for his turn in a draft.
A final decision is likely to be taken by the ILT20 this week.
*11.46 GMT, July 28: The story previously said the ILT20 was owned by the Emirates Cricket Board, an error that has been rectified.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo