The clock is ticking. It will soon be 4pm. Rauf, the Afghan cab driver, takes the wrong exit from the Abu Dhabi freeway and a bunch of scribes travelling to the Sheikh Zayed Stadium are slightly delayed.
The Abu Dhabi T20 League playoffs have begun. Morrisville Samp Army meets New York Strikers in Qualifier 1. The first five overs of an innings is completed when Rauf’s van crosses a deserted stretch on the way to the stadium. The seats are gradually being occupied as the Strikers cruise to the final with a four-wicket win by 5.45pm. In another 15 minutes, Deccan Gladiators would take on Team Abu Dhabi at the same strip.
The decibel levels of the mainly Pakistani, Indian and Afghan crowd shoot up in no time. Gladiators pip Abu Dhabi and return for another skirmish (Qualifier 2) at 8.30pm. Nicholas Pooran’s men choose the hard way to the final; they would have to defeat Strikers the next day to defend the title.
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You soon realise that time is of essence in T10 cricket. The format is relentless; in today’s faced-paced world, the six-season-old cub born on the sand beds of Abu Dhabi is waiting to occupy a larger space in cricket’s burgeoning calendar. While the International Cricket Council (ICC) has reserved approval for T10 in Abu Dhabi, there is currently no room for the format in the Future Tours Programme. Fans are on an overdose and players are spending more time in rehabs. T10 may confound the layman and the connoisseur, but as its owners have tactfully advertised, it can be the best bet for cricket’s involvement in the Olympic Games.
The Olympics push
Cricket hasn’t been part of the Olympics since the 1900 Games, when England beat France to win the gold medal. However, after the T20 World Cup this year, ICC chairman Greg Barclay expressed his desire to push for cricket’s inclusion in the 2028 Games. Barclay, who chairs ICC’s Olympic Working Group, said the movement will get stronger as the World Cup heads to the United States (co-host with the West Indies) in 2024. “T20 is our global growth vehicle,” Barclay announced in a column for insidethegames.biz.
Are the ICC stakeholders missing something here? The voice of what’s brewing on the field, perhaps?
Team Abu Dhabi coach Paul Farbrace believes T10, and not T20, should be preferred by cricket’s stakeholders. “T10 is the best vehicle for the Olympics because it’s a short, sharp game. If we take cricket to the Olympics, we should be careful not to put people off. We want a game that people would be enthused by and want to watch more of,” says Farbrace, an architect of England’s white-ball renaissance.
Farbrace believes the ICC will be hard-pressed to find equilibrium in the game with T10 also knocking on its door. “They are going to lose players down the franchise route. The game needs a good hard look at itself. Do we need T20Is or just the T20 World Cup? The franchise game is fantastic. There’s a lot more work and opportunity. I am a huge fan of Test cricket, but we have to accept that if players have the option to go and earn excellent money, why wouldn’t you? Same with the coaches, why wouldn’t you?,” Farbrace remarks.
Franchise cricket has expanded the opportunities for employment from the game. Team Abu Dhabi bowler and Australia leg-spin sensation Peter Hatzoglou says: “If not for T20s and T10 now, I would never have been a professional. Until April 2022, I was working for KPMG (a financial services firm) in Australia. I could not even get a State contract. These international tournaments have given someone like me year-round employment.”
Abu Dhabi T10’s stock has risen since the first season in 2017. The viewership has risen exponentially from 37 million to 342 million between 2017 and the previous season. The league received more than 1600 applications for the player draft this year - a significant number given the proliferation of T20 leagues and a crammed international calendar.
T10 founder Shaji Ul Mulk lays out the future path: “T10 is hoping to make its presence felt in at least five continents. While Asia and Africa are already locked in, we also want to bring the Americas and Europe under our umbrella.”
T10 will also seep into Zimbabwe with help from the African Cricket Association (ACA) and expand to all 22 member nations. “It will only be good for cricket to be part of the Olympic family. The whole thing is time-bound. The ICC can’t be there beyond a certain number of days. T10 is inevitably going to be the answer,” ACA CEO Cassim Suliman says in Abu Dhabi.
It remains to be seen whether the ICC gravitates towards T10. Time is ticking.
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