UAE's ILT20: Evin Lewis welcomes freedom provided by franchise cricket

West Indies batsman will play for Sharjah Warriors in inaugural edition of country's first, home-owned T20 franchise league, which begins in January

West Indies' Evin Lewis during the 2021 T20 World Cup at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium. AFP
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The UAE had already established itself as hub of international sport, during and after the pandemic. Formula One, UFC, Fifa Club World Cup, World Tennis League are just some of the major sports events with a strong UAE connection.

The Emirates is also at the forefront of one of the most lucrative products – franchise cricket. The Indian Premier League has been held in the UAE several times, and so has the Pakistan Super League, while T10 cricket blossomed here before transforming into the successful Abu Dhabi T10.

And now, the UAE will have its very own high-profile franchise cricket tournament – the International League T20.

The tournament will begin on January 13, which will mark the beginning of the UAE’s first, home-owned T20 franchise league. A total of six teams will compete in 34 matches over a month.

Three of six team owners are associated with the IPL – Knight Riders Group, GMR, and Mumbai Indians – bringing a wealth of franchise cricket experience to the tournament.

West Indies batsman Evin Lewis, who will turn out for Sharjah Warriors, is among a number of star names – like Andre Russell, Moeen Ali, and Alex Hales – who will take part in what is being billed as the second biggest T20 league after the IPL, in terms of player pool, salaries and franchise pedigree.

Lewis, 30, has become a veteran on the T20 circuit, like many of his Caribbean teammates. He will be hoping to make a fresh start to 2023 after a disappointing outing at the T20 World Cup in Australia.

There, two-time champions West Indies crashed out in the opening stage, failing to make it to the Super 12s. For Lewis, the disappointment of the tournament did not linger as he quickly returned to the game during the Abu Dhabi T10 in November. The ILT20 is his next assignment.

This constant feed of franchise cricket is a blessing for many players, who get a chance to move on quickly and focus on their game, instead of brooding on disappointments.

“It [T20 World Cup] is something I want to forget. I don’t want to dwell too much on the past. It was my first time in Australia. I don’t want to beat myself too much over it,” Lewis told The National.

The left-handed batsman, who has two centuries in international T20s, believes franchise cricket offers players a chance to work on their game with more freedom and through better interactions with coaches and support staff.

“It does help. The amount of franchise cricket we have these days, sometimes you can be out of form for a month or two months. You just jump back into cricket and get back into form and keep scoring runs.

“In terms of international cricket, there is more pressure. Franchise cricket is more relaxed. You get the most out of the coaches, other players. Everything is much easier when playing franchise cricket.”

There is already one positive awaiting Lewis when he plays for the Warriors – his home base will be the Sharjah Cricket Stadium. The Trinidad and Tobago batsman knows he will get to play on a few batting beauties during the ILT20, and get some confidence under his belt.

“Having home base in Sharjah, it is good. The wicket is good and the ground is not big. I am actually looking forward to it.”

The rise of franchise cricket also means the priorities and lifestyle of players have changed. Players put a lot of emphasis on making themselves available for tournaments like Abu Dhabi T10, ILT20, PSL, IPL, among others.

That makes the UAE a great place to set up camp, making it easier to travel to cricket bases in the UAE, subcontinent, and the UK.

“I haven’t given it [setting up base in UAE] a thought. But now, I will think about it, though.”

The ILT20 will played in in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, with the final on February 12.

Updated: December 21, 2022, 12:07 PM