The ICC say the T20 World Cup in UAE and Oman will be “the biggest sporting spectacle to have ever taken place in the region”. Tickets went on sale for the tournament on Sunday night, two weeks before it gets under way with preliminary round matches in Muscat and Abu Dhabi.
Within minutes of sales going live, supporters reported being in queues of over an hour on the competition’s website.
Demand for the fixture between India and Pakistan in Dubai on October 24 in likely to account for a sizeable amount of the interest.
Opening round matches, involving Asian giants Bangladesh and Sri Lanka - plus qualifiers Oman, Papua New Guinea, Scotland, Ireland, Namibia and Netherlands, will start on October 17.
The second round starts on October 23 when Australia play South Africa at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi at 2pm.
That is followed at 6pm at the Dubai International Stadium by a repeat of the 2016 final, when England, cricket’s 50 over world champions, face West Indies, the T20 World Cup holders.
“The biggest sporting spectacle to have ever taken place in the region deserved to be played out in front of passionate cricket fans from all 16 nations competing, and we are doing everything possible to keep it safe for all,” said Geoff Allardice, the acting chief executive of the ICC.
“It has been five years since the last men’s T20 World Cup and we can’t wait for the world’s best players to arrive in Oman and the UAE and showcase the very best of T20 cricket.”
Spectators have already been welcomed back for cricket in the UAE in the recent past, in the shape of the ongoing Indian Premier League.
Capacities for the grounds have been capped for the IPL fixtures in line with Covid safety measures, although even with the limited availability, take up has been mixed.
Around 6,000 spectators witnessed the IPL’s resumption between Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians last month, which was the limit permitted at the 25,000-seater stadium in Dubai.
However, not all fixtures have proved so popular. At the start of the game between Kolkata Knight Riders and Sunrisers Hyderabad on Sunday night, there were less than 200 spectators in the stands.
Matches at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi have been around the 2,200-capacity limit for all its IPL fixtures so far.
When the World Cup starts, the stadium in the capital will reopen its east and west mounds — the grass banks on either side of the field — for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
The ground’s authorities will implement new “socially distanced pods” of a maximum of four spectators on those banks.
Each of the UAE’s three venues, in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai, “will be operating at approximately 70 per cent of maximum seated capacity,” according to the ICC, with tickets starting at Dh30.
Jay Shah, the honorary secretary of the Board of Control for India — who retain the hosting rights for the competition, even though it is being staged in UAE and Oman — said he expects an influx of supporters from abroad for the tournament.
“I am delighted that the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup will be played in front of cheering fans both in the UAE and Oman,” Shah said in a statement.
“My sincere thanks to the government of the UAE and Oman for paving the way for fans to return. The anticipation for the World Cup, which is taking place after five years, is building with each passing day.
“I am sure we will have fans coming from different parts of the world to support their team. The vibe they will create will boost the performances on the field.
“The ticket sales have started, and I urge everyone to stay safe and follow the health advisories and savour the experience.”