Afghanistan’s first step to the big league

Taking its cue from the Indian Premier League (IPL), the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) is all set to launch a new franchise-based cricket league in Kabul from July 18-28.

Afghanistan League team auction was held at a five-star hotel in Kabul on Sunday.   -  Special Arrangement

International players landing in a war-ravaged country to play cricket may sound like a perfect plot for a fiction. But it will soon become a reality, with quite a few international cricketers visiting Afghanistan to participate in a new franchise-based cricket league, along with some of the big names from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

Taking its cue from the Indian Premier League (IPL), the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) is all set to launch the league in Kabul from July 18-28. The preparations are in full swing, and the ACB has already obtained the basic permission from the cricket boards of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, the UAE, Canada and West Indies for the league.

THE FRANCHISES IN PLAY
  • Band E Amir Dragons - Paragon Group
  • Mis E Ainak Knights - Wazirzai Group
  • Kabul Eagles - General Petroleum
  • Speen Ghar Lions - Muslimyar
  • Amo Sharks - Al Masafi Group
  • Bost Defenders - Arif Azim Group
  • * (Name - Owner)

Called the Shpageeza Cricket League, the tournament will see the participation of six franchises — all owned by noted industrial groups of Afghanistan. After the team auctions in Kabul on Sunday (May 14), the corporate groups — Al Masafi Group, Arif Azim, Muslimyar, Paragon, Wazirzai and General Petroleum — have been brought on board for the tournament.

That’s not all.

The league, which was earlier held on a small scale, will also have quite a few international cricketers taking part. Nine cricketers from Bangladesh, including Tamim Iqbal, Imrul Kayes, Sabbir Rahman and Mehdi Hasan, have given their consent for the player-auction on May 25. The auction list prepared by the ACB also mentions names of Pakistan stars such as Saeed Ajmal, Kamran Akmal, Sohail Tanveer and Babar Azam. “We have already received good response from the cricketers. This is the first time that so many international cricketers will be playing in this franchise-based league,” the ACB CEO, Shafiq Stanikzai, told Sportstar from Kabul.

Confirming the development, former Pakistan skipper Salman Butt said that he will be part of the tournament. “(I will play) if all goes well, Insha Allah. I already played in the league in Kabul last year,” Butt told Sportstar today.

Last year too, some of the players from Pakistan and Zimbabwe had travelled to Afghanistan for the league, but it was a low-key affair. “This time it is bigger and better,” Stanikzai said, adding that this is a prelude to the Afghanistan Premier League, scheduled to begin next year.

“We are weighing the opportunities, and this experience will help us put up a better show in the APL next year,” Stanikzai said.

The final lists of players to be auctioned were sent by the respective Boards to the ACB on May 15. After rounds of scrutiny, the players will be put up for auction at a Kabul hotel. Confirming this, Rudradeep Banerjee, who manages the Bangladesh players for this league, said that the Bangladesh board has sent a list of nine cricketers for the auction. “Once the auction gets over, the ACB will have to ensure that the players are given proper security. Only after that, the Boards will give the final go-ahead,” Banerjee, a partner at the Second Innings Sports and Entertainment, said.

Stanikzai, however, sounded confident about the security issue. “Security will be beefed up weeks before the tournament begins. I can assure you that there is no concern over security in Kabul. Players will be given full protection,” he said.

TOP PLAYERS TO BE AUCTIONED
  • Pakistan: Yasir Shah, Mohammad Rizwan, Sohail Khan, Sohail Tanveer, Umar Gul, Babar Azam, Salman Butt, Kamran Akmal, Umar Akmal, Saeed Ajmal.
  • Bangladesh: Tamim Iqbal, Sabbir Rahman, Mehdi Hassan, Imrul Kayes, Mosaddek Hossain, Naseer Hossain, Noor-ul Hasan, Shafiul Islam, Sunzamul Islam.
  • Zimbabwe: Richmond Mutumbami, Sean Williams, Solomon Mire, Chamu Chibhabha, Chris Mpofu.
  • West Indies: Kesrick Williams.
  • Canada: Humza Tariq, Durand Soraine, Rizwan Cheema.
  • The UAE: Rohan Mustafa, Mohammad Naveed

Even though the Afghanistan national team has its home ground in Greater Noida, why is the league being held in Kabul?

“The aim is to popularise the game in Afghanistan and also to make people realise that it is very safe for the international teams,” Stanikzai explained

The 10-day league will have two matches every day — both day fixtures — at the International Stadium in Kabul. To create excitement among the fans, the matches will be telecast live on the local channel, One TV. While the organisers are yet to prepare the final guest list, it is expected that some of the eminent personalities of the country would grace the final day of the league. “We explored the option of franchise-based leagues in 2015, but that idea flopped. But this time, it is at a bigger scale and we are expecting a big success,” Stanikzai said, indicating that the chiefs of the other Boards would also be invited for the final.

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