On Friday Jan. 13, after several years of delay beyond its control, the Emirates Cricket Board will launch its franchised T20 Tournament at Dubai International Stadium.
Titled the DP World ILT20, the tournament features six teams competing for a place in the final on Feb. 12. A few days prior to the opening match, I was able to conduct a question-and-answer session with ECB General Secretary Mubashshir Usmani, who is also an associate member representative on the International Cricket Council’s chief executives’ committee.
During the exchange, he outlined his hopes and aspirations for the tournament, for cricket in the UAE and for associate members in general.
Jon Pike: One of the guiding principles of DP World ILT20 is that it provides a platform to develop local talent. How will this be manifested?
Mubashshir Usmani: At its heart, the DP World ILT20 is focused on a sustainable model for UAE Cricket — development and financial. The league, as a first step, has recently agreed to fund the first-year central contracts for the UAE women’s team and also pick up the cost of a fulltime women development officer. Development programs have been committed to by the franchisees annually and will have significant impact on UAE cricket and will save funds that would otherwise have to be spent.
There are very clear goals that, by the sanctioning, the Emirates Cricket Board wants fulfilled and we are committed to fulfilling these. Once we have delivered a successful year-one, a women’s professional league is something that we would be interested in incorporating into the league in the years to come.
JP: In its inaugural year, the league has attracted players mainly from England, West Indies and Afghanistan, with each team allocated four UAE players, two of whom must play in each match. The fact that nine playing members in each team will be from overseas has attracted criticism from full ICC members. How this has been dealt with?
MU: The number of overseas players in a league is arbitrary. Yes, you will hear differing views on what is the right number of overseas players in a league. Some would say that the current practice in other leagues of four overseas players in (the) playing XI is at the cost of opportunity of four local talented players.
We think that, as an upcoming league, a guaranteed position for four UAE players in the official squad and two UAE players in (the) playing XI, as a start, is just the right number in the DP World ILT20. We believe it was a relevant and pertinent discussion and we believe this point has been listened to, time will be the decider as to how this is universally perceived.
JP: Currently, the ICC ranks the UAE T20 men’s team as 13th and 17th for ODIs. The women’s T20 team is ranked 15th. The men’s team qualified to participate in the T20 World Cup in October 2022. Has a timescale been set to break through to the next level?
MU: Our men’s team, and our under-19 and women’s team, have enjoyed impressive milestones over the past number of seasons in ICC tournaments, and Emirates Cricket’s management, support team and the board continue to seek opportunities and associations to expose the players to playing conditions that will raise the bar with the goal of securing a top-10 position (in the ICC rankings).
Our men’s side have already tasted victory of beating a full member outside of World Cups and that resonates deep with the players to replicate such a success. Our men are scheduled to embark on the next instalment of the ICC CWC series (as part of the ICC’s Road to India) and we have clear, quantifiable goals through our participation in such events.”
JP: Clearly, the ambitions of Emirates cricket are high. As an ICC associate member hosting a major T20 franchise league, to what extent could this initiative serve as an example to other associates to become self-sustainable, or is such sustainability only possible with Indian funding?
MU: It is important to note that the DP World ILT20 is one of the many leagues that work, and partner with entities from India, but not just from India — we are honored to have US interest in our league — which shows the power of cricket. Through this league, we are providing both our UAE players, and fellow associate players with the opportunity to rub shoulders with the best (in this format) and allow those that play the chance to take those learning experiences into their own international matches.
As mentioned in my previous answers, associates need to investigate and implement their own methods for financial security and sustainability: through the DP World ILT20 we hope they will embrace the concepts and adapt into their own markets.
“We strongly believe in representing your country, in whatever format, at an elite level is the pinnacle of our game. Associate members, who at best receive one-eighth of the (ICC) funding that a full member receives, need to continually manage their cash flow and revenue streams. Associates are becoming a more formidable force across two of the three formats, as we continue to see at events such as the Asia Cup and the ICC World Cups.
However, lack of funds affects and drives every aspect of business: play this tournament and gain valuable points to remain ICC-compliant, miss that tournament and lose an opportunity to develop talent. It is a delicate balancing act and, to be very transparent, we firmly stand behind our belief that the associates are the future of worldwide cricket — our game is not to be monopolized — in whatever format, UAE cricket has the opportunity to set an example for those that need to become self-sustainable.
JP: At present, cricket boards in Australia, India, Pakistan and South Africa have restraints on their contracted players, which make it difficult for them to play in tournaments such as DP World ILT20. What likelihood is there of a relaxation of these restraints or how likely is it that the players themselves, especially those coming to the end of their international careers, could break rank?
MU: While we won’t speak on behalf of the players, we can share that we have and continue to work with each board to find an agreeable outcome for players who excel in the T20 format to play and reap the rewards of playing in leagues such as the DP World ILT20.
JP: Looking to the future, what is the ECB’s ambition to become an ICC full member, despite the strict entry criteria and difficulty of arranging bilateral matches against full members.
MU: Emirates Cricket’s ambition to become an ICC full member is unwavering and we continue to work toward this goal. As previously mentioned, our team, collectively, works tirelessly to create associations that will assist us on this path, most recently our association with Bangladesh (Cricket Board) and now Afghanistan (Cricket Board) — with both of whom we enjoy a very strong, deep affiliation and relationship.
JP: In keeping with its pioneering ethos, the DP World ILT 20 will deploy innovative Smart Ball Technology. Who stands to benefit?
MU: A number of initiatives that will be implemented during the inaugural edition of the DP World ILT20 have been in the planning from day one — such as the Smart Ball — and now that we are fast approaching the opening match between Dubai Capitals and Abu Dhabi Knight Riders, on Friday Jan. 13, we are looking forward to seeing what this technology brings.
The technology contained within these handcrafted Kookaburra balls sends information from the ball to the end user in no more than 2.2 seconds — split-second information which is an extremely valuable tool for any commentator, high-performance manager, as well as hardcore cricket fan wanting to know more about the swing, the pace off the pitch, from the air and how much it spins. It is extremely exciting technology.
JP: Finally, what will success look like at the end of the tournament and what are the most significant risks or concerns which have the potential to create sleepless nights.
MU: When the winning team lift the magnificent DP World ILT20 trophy to the world — that moment will mark an incredible, emotional, successful milestone on which the league will have established itself.
Right now, I and this group of very talented, thorough professionals (involved in delivering the league) are approaching every day, every minute with complete dedication and focus to ensure every facet of delivering a successful inaugural edition is being met, so I can honestly say that once we reach the end of the day, not much is keeping me awake.