In a bid to grow cricket within the UAE, the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) has announced it will partner a new T20 league that already has the backing of six Full Member cricket boards. A franchise-based tournament will be staged in December and January with Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi as the hosts. The league has also been sanctioned by the ICC for the next 10 years, subject to an annual appraisal.
The competition will include five franchises, with 22 matches played over 24 days with leading international players. According to the ECB press release, each of the five franchises will have 16 players - six international, two emerging - from Full Member countries - three from Associate countries, two young players from the local domestic set-up and three UAE national cricketers.
"Our firm aim is for this event to take the sport to all corners of the UAE and to develop cricket at a grassroots level, initially in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman and Ras Al Khaimah," David East, the ECB's chief executive, said in a statement. "This will not be just another T20 tournament, it will be a true international festival of sport and the hottest cricket ticket in the UAE.
"No other T20 competition has been established with such an international outlook, offering fans the chance to watch players from so many nations, from the international stars of the game to the best up-and-coming young talent," said Zayed Abbas, an ECB board member. "These are goals and values that are really important to the ECB and so we are pleased to offer our full support."
There is also a potential clash brewing between the ECB and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) for the slotted window. Pakistan are due to host New Zealand and Australia later this year, series which would ordinarily be played in the UAE. But the UAE's growth as a destination of choice for various T20 leagues means venues could be in short supply for the PCB - which had asked UAE to keep the winter window exclusively reserved for Pakistan.
That request appears to have gone unheeded, but the ECB did offer venues in Dubai and Abu Dhabi for Pakistan's home series, which is likely to run parallel alongside the T20 leagues. The PCB, however, insists on having a free window, saying it would otherwise consider other venues, with Malaysia understood to be a frontrunner. These latest developments threaten a long-standing relationship between the PCB and the ECB that has seen very few hiccups up to this point.
When ESPNcricinfo approached PCB, one of its officials expressed skepticism over the Emirates T20 league. "PCB will clarify its position after ECB has officially notified us," they said. "This ad is not placed by the ECB. It is placed by private sponsors of the league."
The ECB's T20 league will be squeezed into an already packed winter schedule for the country, as the Asia Cup, the Afghanistan Premier League and T10 League are already confirmed to be staged in the UAE next season. Pakistan are also due to host two full bilateral series, against New Zealand and Australia, followed by the fourth edition of the Pakistan Super League. Pakistan complain that having their home series run alongside various other leagues hurts the PCB's commercial rights in the UAE and can cause significant damage to their home series and the PSL in the UAE.
That is just the winter commitments in the UAE. In addition, franchise T20 competitions during the time period will be played across the cricketing world, with the Big Bash League in Australia, the Bangladesh Premier League, and potentially the inaugural season of the T20 Global League in South Africa all to be played between November and January. That might go some way towards explaining why besides Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Australia are also understood to be unhappy about the development.
The ECB's T20 league project is spearheaded by former PCB chairman Dr Nasim Ashraf, who, during his term with Pakistan, had initiated the idea of launching a T20 league within Pakistan. However, the idea never materialised under Dr. Ashraf, who resigned from the PCB the same day Pakistan's then President Pervez Musharraf did, in August 2008.
Ashraf, who is chairman of the new T20 league's board of directors, is upbeat about the T20 venture in the Emirates. "Our intention is to build a new event that is here to stay, and one that occupies a niche position in the international cricket calendar," Ashraf said in statement issued by the ECB. "We are not looking to compete with other T20 leagues. We are looking to develop an international festival of cricket that exists first and foremost for the benefit of the players, and with a very specific goal of helping to develop new talent from around the world and grow the game in keeping with global best practices."