ILT20 saves its best for last as UAE cricket savours night to remember

One-sided final does not detract from a buzzing atmosphere at a packed Dubai International Stadium

Powered by automated translation

In so many ways, the DP World International League T20 saved its best for last.

A tournament that had largely failed to capture the public’s attention, let alone its imagination, for much of its first season suddenly burst into life spectacularly on finals night.

The organisers clearly anticipated as much. The massive branding sheets which masked vast tracts of empty seats in the top tiers at Dubai International Stadium were peeled back – save for those covering around 3,000 seats behind the bowler’s arm at the old Emirates Road End of the ground.

Such was the flood of spectators, one of the remaining signs had to be removed 15 overs through the first innings of the final to accommodate yet more fans.

All seemed to be fully invested in the game, too. The stands were awash with colour, both the red of the Desert Vipers, and the vivid orange of Gulf Giants. Maybe it was no surprise: over the course of this competition, the Vipers have given away 15,000 shirts in a bid to get people to support their cause.

It was uplifting stuff - a better atmosphere even than when Australia played New Zealand in the T20 World Cup final at this ground 16 months ago, as well as for much of the Indian Premier League which preceded that event, too.

Clearly, there was not quite so much prestige on the line here. With the SA T20 final culminating in Johannesburg just as the match in Dubai was starting, and India playing Pakistan in the Women’s T20 World Cup at the same time, it was debatable whether it was even the most important game going on in cricket that same evening.

But it was something the UAE could call its own, and be proud of, too.

Avram Glazer was there again. The Vipers owners had opted against watching the revival of Manchester United – of whom he is co-chairman – in the Premier League in favour of taking in the final stages of his first cricket team’s first season.

Ex-great of cricket Mike Gatting and Justin Langer were watching on from the posh seats.

So were the majority of the UAE women’s team, four of whom are hoping for a taste of big time themselves this week.

On Monday, Esha Oza, Theertha Satish, Vaishnave Mahesh – who all had platinum seats at the ILT20 final – as well as UK-based Mahika Gaur, will go under the hammer at the Women’s Premier League auction.

It felt as though all of the city’s cricket loving community, as well as some very welcome guests, had decamped to Dubai Sports City for a night that was made in the UAE. For once, this was not an imported event – not a showpiece owned by India, Pakistan, or the ICC.

How UAE cricketers have craved nights like this. Getting their chance in front of thousands in the stands, and millions more on TV.

It was fitting that each of the finalists were led onto the field by their two home-based players. That meant, amid the pyrotechnics and with the crowd roaring, out strolled 17-year-old Aayan Khan, and 18-year-old student Ali Naseer, at the head of a line that included some of the sport’s most gilded names.

Unfortunately for the occasion, the only people conspicuous by their absence were the Vipers top order. The players who had made the Vipers such a formidable force in the competition so far – Alex Hales, Rohan Mustafa and Colin Munro – came and went so swiftly, it rendered the final a miss-match.

Gulf Giants were worthy winners, against a Vipers side who were the other standout side of the first ILT20 campaign.

Carlos Brathwaite, who is – for one reason or another – one of the most recognisable names in the game, was player of the match in the final.

Hales added a green, WWE style belt for scoring most runs to the T20 World Cup winners’ medal he won at the end of last year. Chris Jordan did similar in the bowling department.

Clearly, all have done bigger and better things before. Yet all professed themselves chuffed to be part of the pilot edition of the ILT20.

And thanks to luminaries like them, as well as the fledgling stars of UAE cricket who also coloured this season, it feels certain this event is here to stay.

Updated: February 13, 2023, 6:42 AM