Shah Rukh Khan ushers in optimistic start for ILT20 in Dubai

Bollywood star delights crowd before his Abu Dhabi Knight Riders team lose to Dubai Capitals in tournament opener

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The little boy walking up the ramp towards the Dubai International Stadium summed up the dilemma neatly.

“Hmm,” he said, as he perused the bunting on the lead up to the gates. “I think I’m going to go for Gulf Giants.”

There were so many unknowns ahead of the opening night of the UAE’s attempt to join the T20 big leagues.

Which of the six start-up franchises to support? Would the UAE players be up to it, when rubbing along with T20 greatness like Sunil Narine and Andre Russell? Would Joe Root still be any good at T20 cricket?

How would the Floridian platinum-hit singer Jason Derulo go down with a crowd of cricket fans at a stadium in the UAE desert? Ditto the Indian rapper Badshah?

And would a tournament that has had a long and at-times-troubled gestation finally actually get up and running?

For all the uncertainties ahead of the launch of the DP World International League T20, there was one nailed-on guarantee: that Shah Rukh Khan would be able to woo a crowd.

Of all the headline signings for this competition – Root, Russell, Narine, Virender Sehwag in the commentary box, Simon Taufel out of retirement to umpire – King Khan was the biggest.

Ahead of watching the latest progeny of his Kolkata Knight Riders dynasty making their first steps in competition, the Bollywood great went for an amble around the outfield. It was met with a huge roar from what was still, more than 90 minutes before the start of play, a modest crowd.

In his wake, Derulo and Badshah, the big-money imports, had a tough act to follow. They did their best. In Derulo’s case, it meant serenading the crowd and doing his best to boogie while on crutches.

He did well to battle on through injury as nimbly as he did. And at least he made sure the show went on. Back in 2019, another singing star from Stateside, Pitbull had left the same stage vacant, opting out of a trip to launch that year’s Pakistan Super League in Dubai because of a faulty plane.

Of all the performers ahead of the ILT20, the one who performed with the most gusto was not a full-time singer at all. DJ Bravo – the artist otherwise known as Dwayne, the MI Emirates bowling all-rounder – played all his old favourites. Which amounted to two numbers.

It left just enough time for SRK to address the crowd before an army of workers were left to strike the stage and prepare the field for cricket.

“I feel like this is my own house,” Khan told the adoring congregation. “Thank you for making me feel warm.”

Amid his feel-good oration, he hit on what is perhaps the nub of the ILT20. “Inshallah, UAE will be able to create their own international players,” he said.

He should be forgiven for semantics. The UAE, after all, have been producing international players for a good while now, what with the country having played full ODI cricket for years.

But SRK surely meant a player who is fit to play regularly on the big stage. And this competition will advertise their wares better than anything else.

Two home-based players are guaranteed starting places in every starting XI in this tournament. They are going to have to earn the trust of their captains to get a significant role in each game, and will have to wrestle for the limelight with gilded imports while they are at it. But at least the stage is theirs.

Zawar Farid was the first of the home brigade to get his 15 minutes of fame in the ILT20. In the sixth over of the innings, the Abu Dhabi Knight Riders all-rounder held a steepling catch to dismiss the England great Root.

After some pyrotechnics from Rovman Powell which were every bit the match for those which accompanied the opening ceremony, as he made 48 from 29 balls, Dubai Capitals posted 187 for six from their 20 overs.

The Capitals’ two UAE representatives were both seam bowlers. Each had eventful starts to their own ILT20 adventures.

Hazrat Luqman might have had a wicket with the first ball he sent down. Instead, he saw Paul Stirling dropped at cover by Ravi Bopara.

His UAE-based colleague, Akif Raja, did taste joy almost immediately. The seam bowler, who has been on the fringes of the national team for the past 18 months but scarcely had any game time, nicked off Brandon King with the second ball he bowled.

Later, he had Connor Esterhuizen caught, and Luqman got in on the act when he had Russell caught by Root. By that point, they were speeding their side to victory, which eventually came the Capitals' way by 73 runs.

Updated: January 13, 2023, 6:41 PM