The T10 League’s third edition – first under its newly minted Abu Dhabi T10 moniker and debut in the UAE capital – was given a perfect day one endorsement by one of its highest profile players on Friday, after being hailed as “so sexy” by West Indies allrounder Andre Russell.
Russell had hit 58 from just 24 balls to hand reigning champions Northern Warriors a nine-wicket victory over sole survivors from the inaugural tournament in 2017, Maratha Arabians.
It was an exemplary batting performance from the 31-year-old – possibly short-form cricket’s premier player in the world right now – and Russell clearly enjoyed the freedom that ten-over cricket encourages.
“I would describe this cricket as so sexy,” Russell said. “Honestly, it’s just quick, spicy and I have no form of nerve going out to bat or bowling because I expect a guy to hit me for four or six and it’s just a challenge for me as a bowler. Batting-wise I just know I have to get the job done… it’s so much fun.”
Prior to the first fixture of 2019, Abu Dhabi T10 opened its curtains in customary fashion; fresh out the other side of a trying build-up, warily peered at from outsiders, talked of excitedly from within and a sense of intrigue shared by all.
Two years in, the tournament’s preamble wouldn’t be the same without having to navigate hurdles.
The first year had a circus-like feel to it, the celebrities in attendance often taking centre stage over the star-studded cast of players. It’s second season put on a far more professional production but had to overcome court orders, alleged Ponzi schemes and a bitter fallout between owner-cum-chariman Shaji ul Mulk and then president Salman Iqbal.
And this year’s lead-up has been no different in proving a trying experience for most involved.
Most tricky has been the PCB’s withdrawal of previously awarded No Objection Certificates (NOCs) for its players at the behest of prime minister Imran Khan. It left a number of high-profile players out of pocket and squads with gaping holes.
No franchise was hit harder than Qalandars – a branch of Pakistan Super League (PSL) outfit Lahore Qalandars – who have hastily replaced 12 of their roster, including icon player Shahid Afridi and Pakistan internationals such as Imad Wasim and Mohammad Hafeez.
For the second year running, it forced a rapid reprint at the branding suppliers and, considering the marketing pull of Pakistani cricketers in the UAE, the ramifications of the PCB’s decision were wide ranging.
It prompted local governing body, the Emirates Cricket Board, into writing to PCB chairman Ehsan Mani, stating the absence of Pakistan players “will cause serious damage” to the league.
But T10 – put forward at its two previous events by both Afridi and England captain Eoin Morgan as being cricket’s best bet for breaking into the Olympic Games – knows better than most that the show must go on and their ever expanding team are now experts in crisis management.
For all the nuisance of this year’s biggest organisational challenge, however, there is a feel of real permanency.
The 3.0 reinvention has seen the triad of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, Abu Dhabi Cricket and Abu Dhabi Tourism team with T10 for an initial five-years at Zayed Cricket Stadium, a venue growing at a rapid rate.
That is no mean feat in this part of the world and, although initially planned to tie in with Diwali celebrations as a means of tapping into the Indian travel market before a clash with the recently concluded T20 World Cup Qualifiers, the infrastructure of the event is immediately slicker.
Again, this is nothing to be scoffed at considering, for all its charm, history and wonderful atmosphere, how chaotic previous host Sharjah can be.
Abu Dhabi will still have to tackle low attendance outside of Friday matches as well as enticing fans from other emirates to the capital, but day one brought with it a real sense of order to what is still, for now, the sport’s youngest variant.
An encouraging swell of support in the stands lasted the bulk of the day’s remaining two games and those that stayed the distance were rewarded for their endurance.
The second game saw icon captains Shane Watson (57*) and Morgan (52*) exchange half-centuries as the latter led his Delhi Bulls side to a seven-wicket victory over Deccan Gladiators before Team Abu Dhabi and Qalandars played out the first tie in T10 history, providing a dramatic opening to this year’s tournament.