Shaji Ul Mulk: T10 needs a 30-day league to compete with T20

Shaji Ul Mulk, the chairman and owner of the Abu Dhabi T10 League, is buoyed by the league’s response from sponsors, fans and spectators.

Local cricketers are getting to rub shoulders with top international cricketers at the T10 League.   -  Twitter @T10League

The T10 league was conceived keeping a 90-minute timeframe in mind so cricket could adapt to the lowering attention span of sports fans. Having begun the experiment in 2017 without high expectations, Shaji Ul Mulk, owner and chairman, Abu Dhabi T10 League, is buoyed by the response from sponsors, fans and spectators.

The T10 format is more exciting than T20, as “every ball is action packed,” he contends.

In a chat with Sportstar, Shaji Ul Mulk shared his views on the conception of the league, the promise it holds, and more.

Q. Besides T20, cricket has the 10-over format and the 100-ball format, too. What does the future hold for the sport?

A. It’s not about predicting the future but it’s about us having the confidence that this is an optimum time for sport. World sport has already proven that 90 minutes is an ideal slot, because there’s a certain attention span of a human being, and it’s actually getting shorter and shorter. At the moment, from T20 to T10, there’s already a drastic change. A lot of products are coming in between, but I suppose they’re in between. But we’ve already taken a step which is already innovative and already far ahead. We’re hoping that the T10 format takes legs, and then the bilaterals will start, that’s when we can say T10 has totally arrived. The other countries have been following us – Qatar has just announced a T10, Caribbean Premier League has announced something else, there’s a Euro T10, there’s a noise of T10 now coming up everywhere. Cricket is moving in that direction.

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Formats will stay, because Test cricket has stayed. If any format had to go by now, it had to be Test cricket. It hasn’t. It has stayed. The same way [the one-day format] has changed, and T20 has changed. Each format will find its space.

T10 is a lot more exciting game [as compared to T20]. There’s a balance between excitement and commercial sense. If T10 has to really compete with T20, then probably it has to be 100 matches, 30-day league because that’s the commercial equal. Now we’re a 10-day league, and there’s only so much of air time available.

What difference do you notice between T20 and T10?

No matter how fast you have a T20 game, even a power-hitting six overs, you hardly get a hundred. We’re averaging 14-15 runs an over. Just the pace, and plus, every ball is action-packed, there are not really dot balls here.

Ul Mulk expects the relatively unknown Tom Banton to go big in the upcoming IPL auction due to his exploits in the T10 League. Photo: T10League

 

Strategising in such a short format has proven to be a challenge. Do you agree?

A lot of players have said that. Players playing T10 for the first year; it’s too fast for them. Eoin Morgan has gone on record and said that a lot of the skills he has developed because of T10. Also, you’re seeing new skills. Tom Banton (who scored 80 off 28 balls for Qalanders), nobody knows about him. You [will] see [him] in the IPL auction. Nicholas Pooran, nobody knew him and West Indies picked him after T10. There’s a lot that T10 is contributing in the development of cricket.

Please tell us how the league is helping local, home-grown cricketers?

We have the regulation where every team needs two UAE players and one must play in the XI every game. So, we’ve got a lot of UAE stars now. Ahmed Raza is bowling well, Shiraz is bowling well. Mostly bowlers are showing merit. Some of the batsmen are good players, just because of the huge talent pool [in the league] they aren’t getting chances. But bowlers are getting a chance. From what we see, this is a definite stage for the development of cricket basically.

Football is still the No. 1 sport in the UAE. Do you think that situation is changing?

Cricket is by far the No. 1 sport [in the UAE], because 80 per cent of the expatriate population play cricket. I’m trying to spread the message. Of course, football is the national sport; it’s not for the expat population but for the locals. [Football is] well-structured, [with] club values, the royal family members own football clubs, [is well-sponsored, [with] a lot of funding behind them. That’s why it’s a very significant moment, it’s for the first time that the government is actually funding the cricket. It never used to happen. Football, rugby, racing, tennis and golf are all funded. But for the first time, cricket is being funded. So from that perspective, things are changing.

Shaji Ul Mulk, chairman and owner of the T10 League. Photo: Special Arrangement

 

T10 is also opening up new viewership markets. I’m not sure the locals or the Europeans or the Americans, who are used to watching a 90-minute football game, would go to a three-four hours T20 game and have the same attention span. When they come here, they see a lot of action. The span is the same. So that’s again the whole logic behind the 90-minute cricket.

Elaborate for us the anti-corruption measures taken by the league.

We’ve had a zero-tolerance approach so far, and anti-corruption is totally outsourced to the ICC. We’ve never touched that department, right from 2017. When we launched it, we had an option not to but we outsourced it to the ICC. Their anti-corruption officers are engaged full-time in monitoring the league. The hotel we stay, each team has an ICC officer staying with the team, and even in the stadium, outside or inside. There’s a big team of the ICC, not only anti-corruption, but also anti-doping. They’re all ICC-approved agencies: the umpires, the anti-corruption, and the anti-doping. We pay the ICC a hefty amount actually.

The league is into its third year now. From 2017, when it started, do you think it has lived up to the expectations set out for it?

Building any property is a long-term plan. It takes five to 10 years. IPL took five to ten years to be what it is today. We have to be realistic in our approach as to how it has to grow. But then, all of us have been pleasantly surprised at the pace of those expectations. We have achieved most of the expectations we had. We’ve got SONY as the broadcaster, we have got the top players in the world and we haven’t compromised on the product.

There weren’t any expectations [for us] in the first year. [Our concerns were] Will the crowd come and watch, will it be appreciated on the television, will the players like the concept? These are all our stakeholders, and the people who have invested in the league, how do they feel about their investment? We had a positive on all the fronts.

(The writer is in Abu Dhabi at the invitation of Abu Dhabi T10 League)