Around 80 players will be vying for the final 13 contracts available for UAE-based cricketers to play in the DP World International League T20 on Friday.
The six franchises will meet via Zoom to fill their respective quotas of local players for the second season of the competition, which starts in January.
Each team must have four in their squad. An easing of the eligibility criteria means more players have been able to put themselves forward to play in the UAE’s premier T20 tournament.
Last season, only those who are qualified to play for the national team, via either birth or the ICC’s three-year residency rule, were able to be selected.
Now, though, players who have lived in the country for at least a year but are committed to qualifying to play for the UAE are eligible.
Five of the six franchises retained two UAE players from the first season. Aayan Khan and Sanchit Sharma remain with the champions, Gulf Giants.
Junaid Siddique and Mohammed Jawadullah have stayed with Sharjah Warriors, and MI Emirates have kept Muhammad Waseem and Zahoor Khan.
Matiullah Khan and Sabir Ali will remain with Abu Dhabi Knight Riders, with Ali Naseer and Rohan Mustafa doing the same with Desert Vipers.
Akif Raja was the one UAE player retained by Dubai Capitals, meaning they have three places on offer for aspiring players.
Those who are selected for the Capitals will get to play alongside stars like David Warner and Mark Wood in the forthcoming campaign.
Competition for selection is fierce, judged by the standard of play at the ILT20 development tournament, which concluded last week.
The tournament was organised to give players the chance to advertise their skills to prospective employers for the main event.
Its leading player was already an established UAE international player. Asif Khan stole the attention as the Braves won the competition, scoring more than 100 more runs than any other batter.
The tournament also threw up new talented prospects who are still some way from being eligible to represent the UAE in international competition.
Haider Ali, 29, was the leading wicket-taker in the tournament with 15. That included four for 11 as he bowled the Braves to a win in the final against the Blitzers. The left-arm spinner has lived in the UAE for a year and a half after moving from Lahore.
“I wanted to play high-level cricket which is why I moved here from Pakistan,” Haider said. “I wasn’t getting chances there. I am a professional player and I want to play at international level which is why I want to play for UAE. It is my dream to play for them.”
If competition for places in the ILT20 is fierce, then the country’s left-arm spinners know all about that already.
Haider is the latest to join a packed field of lefties trying to be noticed. Aayan is the established spinner in the national team, despite still being only 17.
Nilansh Keswani, Jash Giyanani and Rahul Bhatia have also been on the fringes of the senior team for some time.
“That is cricket,” said Haider, who models his game on Ravindra Jadeja, the Indian all-rounder.
“They are all left-arm spinners and so am I, and that is good competition. They want to play for UAE and my aim is also to do that, so it is going to be competitive.
“There is a little bit of difference between all the other left-arm spinners and me.”
Haider’s excellence in the development tournament caught the eye. Mustafa, the UAE all-rounder who was retained by the Vipers, reckons his franchise should swoop.
“Haider Ali took a few wickets and whenever you give him the new ball, he was ready to take it,” Mustafa said on the latest episode of his franchise’s podcast, Vipers Voices.
“I think that is important. Whenever the team gives you the ball, it doesn’t matter if it is the powerplay, the death overs or what. He showed he has a good talent.
“I really believe he should come to Desert Vipers. We have a leg spinner, an off spinner, but we don’t have a left-arm spinner. If he comes in, it will be really good.”