ILT20 Season 2: Filling seats, the Shaheen Afridi effect, and rivalries

There are plenty of reasons for intrigue ahead of the return of the UAE's franchise competition

Gulf Giants celebrate their win in the inaugural DP World ILT20 after defeating Desert Vipers in the final in Dubai last year. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Gulf Giants will get the defence of their DP World International League T20 title under way when they face Sharjah Warriors on Friday.

The venue for the big kick off for Season 2 of the UAE’s franchise competition is telling. Sharjah is the UAE’s oldest and arguably most atmospheric background.

In terms of attracting fans to the ground, Friday afternoon in Sharjah used to be regarded as as close to a sure thing as is possible.

While it might be inaccurate to suggest cricket is feverishly anticipating the ILT20’s restart, there are plenty of points of interest about what is set to follow over the next month or so.


This list could start and end here. For all the positives there were about the first season, the standout memory was of the swaths of empty seats that provided the backdrop to the TV feed.

Improving that image is priority number one, and David White, the new tournament CEO, has been bullish that it can be done.

Rather than relying on big-name signings selling the tournament on their own, as felt the case last year, the organisers have been far more active in the local community ahead of Season 2.

The marketing has been appealingly old school in some ways: there have been ticket giveaways on radio shows, and there is a ginormous billboard that is unmissable from Hessa Street. There has been some techy stealth on widely followed Facebook groups, too.

Let’s hope the marketing team’s efforts bear fruit. But they will be reliant on some other teams for it to be lasting.

ILT20 2023 team of the tournament


The number of close matches in Season 1 could be counted on the fingers of one hand, and you would still have half left over.

The disparity in results, between newly-formed teams who were, by their nature, struggling for an identity, meant the atmosphere at games often felt flat.

White reckons that will be addressed when rivalries form and tribalism takes root. For that, the league needs time.

And at least they have made a start. Unlike in the Abu Dhabi T10, for instance, where the teams involved have changed perennially, all six teams remain the same in the ILT20, and are committed to establishing themselves.

Some more so than others, perhaps.

Are the IPL sides bothered?

Three of the teams in the competition are offshoots of Indian Premier League franchises. In the first season, none made the final, and Abu Dhabi Knight Riders, in particular, were way off the pace.

Is the ILT20 just a vehicle through which they can extend control over players for the IPL season? Or do they actually cherish success in the UAE-based event?

Desert Vipers are now the only standalone side in the competition. Gulf Giants and Sharjah Warriors both have sister teams in the new Women’s Premier League in India.

Will that more singular focus have a bearing in terms of results on the field?

Can the Pakistanis move the dial?

As the lone franchise without Indian owners – they are owned by Avram Grant, the businessman from the United States – the Vipers have seemed free to cast their net wider than their rivals.

Meaning they have been able to hoover up top talent from Pakistan. Shaheen Afridi, the kingpin fast bowler, became the league’s biggest transfer coup to date when he was announced by the Vipers last year.

Shaheen was part of an initial trio signed from Pakistan that also included Shadab Khan and Azam Khan. And last week, Mohammed Amir became the fourth.

Pakistan had a decade, give or take, when the UAE was their de facto home. They were not always guaranteed big crowds by the end of that period.

But the fact they have been less frequent visitors to these shores in recent times could help with footfall through the gates.

But who will win?

Informing a prediction without much more to go on than one pilot edition is a fool’s errand.

But it does seem certain that last year’s champions, Gulf Giants, will be the team to beat again this time around. Based mainly on the fact their coach, Andy Flower, rarely misses.

Flower’s wealth of success in franchise tournaments around the world has been based in large part of his grasp of the importance of data analytics and number crunching.

Which is another reason to factor in Desert Vipers when it comes to the title race. Glazer recruited one of the founders of CricViz, the leading data analytics provider for the sport, to head up his team when it started.

Clearly it is a heavy influence on them. How else to explain the fact that they have seemingly signed every available left-arm fast bowler for the competition?

Those two were the finalists last year. From beyond them, there are a couple of sources of intrigue. David Warner’s arrival at Dubai Capitals could charge a side who were fitful in the first season.

And MI Emirates have Muhammad Waseem, the UAE captain, at the top of their batting line up. He became the first player in history to hit 100 sixes in the course of a calendar year of international cricket last season.

Updated: January 18, 2024, 9:37 AM