International cricket's back in full swing, albeit without fans and in a bio-secure environment with England hosting West Indies in a three-Test series in their backyard.
Thousands of miles away, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) too prepares to welcome competitive cricket back with the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) announcing the launch of the Emirates Domestic D10 Tournament on Sunday.
The six-team tournament, which will be played in the 10-over format that had earlier been witnessed in the T10 League (also hosted in the associate nation) will be the first-ever event wholly organised by the Emirati board.
"This tournament is a significant step towards the Emirate Cricket Board domestic development of cricket. This will provide a pathway to our youth and our talent to be recognised and also to have a system where they can be integrated into the national cricket side of men," said ECB general secretary Mubashir Usmani while addressing mediapersons during the launch of the event, which the board claims could later see an expansion into other formats as well as into women's cricket.
The D10 tournament will focus only on local cricketers with the player pool restricted to UAE residents. A total of 34 matches — with three matches per day starting at 4 pm local time — will be played during the period of the tournament between 24 July and 7 August. Of the six teams, two will be selected by the board while the four councils under the ECB —Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai and Sharjah — will pick a side each. Two teams will face each other twice during the round robin stage before the playoffs and the final.
Given the COVID-19 situation and the fact that the UAE has had nearly 57,000 cases of the dreaded disease so far, the board has decided to host the event behind closed doors. It will also be following the COVID-19 protocols set by the ICC as well as the guidelines issued by local authorities while hosting the event, which includes regular sanitisation of the venues.
34-matches.....SIX teams.....all Domestic & starting THIS Friday.
— UAE Cricket Official (@EmiratesCricket) July 19, 2020
"We are trying to make this event spectator-free. So this will only be played within the concerned people and the teams and all. And we are right now not allowing any spectators for the tournament due to the current pandemic situation.
"It will be livestreamed through our (broadcast) partners, so that is the best way right now, maintaining social distance and watching it from home," said Usmani.
Is the tournament, however, being used as an audition to show other boards of its capability to host such events during a pandemic? Especially when there are talks of the Indian Premier League (IPL) shifting this year to the country where it had hosted a part of its 2014 edition? Usmani answered in the negative.
"This D10 programme is being created as a domestic pathway for Emirates Cricket Board, and we are looking to provide a platform for local UAE cricketers, so this is a long-term process by Emirates Cricket Board keeping in mind about the future of UAE cricket.
"Coming to the IPL, we have extended support to BCCI by writing an invitation about Emirates Cricket Board is ready and willing to provide all support to the Indian cricket board whenever they opt to host it outside India. But at the moment we haven’t received any official thing from BCCI about hosting in UAE, and as soon as we receive any such prerequisites or something, we’ll definitely follow it up with BCCI as it is their event," said Usmani.
ECB also announced ITW Consulting Pvt Ltd, who are also the shirt sponsorship rights holder of the Ireland cricket team, as their commercial partner for the event on a three-year deal during the interaction.
"It’s a domestic tournament. Our expectation would be to have at least one third of the usual viewership that any cricket tournament receives in this region," said Vivek Chandra, director, ITW, Middle East when asked about their expectations of viewership for the event.
The organisers will also attempt to use the event to spread the sport beyond expats hailing from south Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, etc and try and get more native Emirati cricketers on board.
"What we are also attempting is to make this an inclusive sport. Cricket has always been branded as an ‘expat sport’ in this part of the world. We are attempting to make it an inclusive sport. So this is the start of a long-term plan where we are taking it further beyond the communities that cricket has reached to as of today," added Chandra.
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The IPL will be held in the United Arab Emirates from 19 September to 10 November in a controlled environment owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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