Defending champions Gulf Giants beat Sharjah Warriors as ILT20 season starts in style

Second edition of tournament sees James Vince's side secure 31-run win

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One match in, and the second edition of the 2024 DP World International League already feels like an upgrade on its first.

OK, so it ended up being one-sided, and won by the side everyone expected – the defending champions, Gulf Giants. But Sharjah Warriors did at least threaten an upset for the first half of their run chase.

There were sixes that were hit miles. Fast bowlers lit up the zing bails. And, more importantly than any of that, there was an atmosphere.

The organisers made a savvy play by arranging opening night in Sharjah. The ground is the smallest of the three ILT20 venues, and the easiest to fill.

Not that it was full. But there were well over half the seats filled, and that represented a markup on all games – other than the final – last season.

The majority of supporters had been issued with a yellow T-shirt. From a distance, it appeared they were all backing the home team, the Warriors. In fact, the shirts bore the logo of the league itself, rather than a team in specific.

There was less ostentation that ahead of last year’s grand opening. This time around, there was a dance troupe of local schoolkids ushering in the season rather than Jason Derulo on crutches.

That amounted to some enthusiastic young volunteers, who were having a night they will not forget in a hurry, rather than a world star having one that he probably hoped he would. It all felt nice and homely.

Even outside the walls before the start, there was sense it was big-match night. Like the Friday feelings of Sharjah in the good old days.

Before the game, there was anticipation rather than ambivalence. Street cricketers continued their fierce pick-up matches, then said they were heading in to watch the big match, too.

The Sri Lankan papare band from last year are back. Their presence must have buoyed their compatriot, Maheesh Theekshana. While the rest of the Giants attack was being obliterated at the start, the mystery spinner nipped in with 4-15.

There was even a healthy contribution from some of the home participants. Usman Khan shone on debut for the Giants. The Pakistan-born batter has been waiting for an opportunity like this.

Yes, he has already taken the T20 leagues of Pakistan and Bangladesh by storm before. He has hundreds in both those, so it stands to reason he should succeed in the UAE version.

But he is especially driven to succeed in this competition. Usman has revoked his Pakistan credentials in order to attempt to qualify for the UAE as a resident.

He has yet to complete that process to the satisfaction of the ICC, but he is one of the UAE player quota for the Giants for this tournament.

It was immediately obvious to see why Andy Flower, Usman’s coach at Multan Sultans in the PSL in the past, wanted him.

A Giants innings which started brightly was threatening to falter before Usman gave it some impetus in the second half. He hit 32 off the 18 balls he faced, to help his side register 198-7 from their 20 overs.

The second UAE player who was mandated a place in the starting XI was also given a full chance, too.

When Aayan Khan played for the Giants as a 17-year-old last season, he was largely hidden away, and offered just the occasional chance to either bat or bowl.

After 11 months excelled for the UAE on the international stage in the time since, he now has the full faith of his side. This time around, James Vince invited the teen left-armer to open the bowling at the ground where he has grown up.

Aayan saw Johnson Charles dropped off the second ball he bowled. He exited his first over with limited damage, having conceded just five runs.

He was only given three overs, after Martin Guptill took the young spinner for two sixes in his third. With Charles and Guptill at the wicket, the Warriors looked a chance of an upset.

Once they were parted, with the score on 93, the Sharjah side were sent into a spin, and they ended struggling to 167-6, with player of the match Jamie Overton claiming 3-29.

Updated: January 19, 2024, 6:35 PM