Engaged community, bigger crowds and some Nicholas Pooran magic decorate ILT20 2.0

Second season of UAE’s franchise league marks massive improvement on pilot edition

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The organisers of the DP World International League T20 probably won’t ever allow themselves to think they have cracked it.

But they might have permitted themselves a collective smile of satisfaction an hour before Saturday night’s finale to Season 2.

The lower tier of Dubai International Stadium was already almost as good as full. At the same time, cleaning staff were busy dusting down all the seats in the upper deck.

At a similar stage 12 months earlier, they were not nearly so optimistic. Back then, huge canvas banners still blocked off most of the seats in the upper tier, just as they had done for the majority of the tournament.

Even as the crowd swelled ahead of the start of the 2023 final, they were reticent about peeling back the sheets for fear of how empty seats might look on TV.

A year on, they had every reason to be confident. Attendances had been vastly improved throughout the season. Not so much that a packed house for the final was guaranteed, but still there was plenty of reason to hope.

By the time Nicholas Pooran was flaying his sixth six as MI Emirates signed for a record score, halfway to beating Dubai Capitals, you had to look very closely to find an empty seat.

The No 1 priority ahead of ILT20’s second season had been to improve crowds. Unquestionably, it was mission accomplished.

It bears pointing out the growth was not entirely organic. A significant number of supporters for all matches had been taken by bus, whether it be by the individual franchises supporting their partners by giving away tickets to their members of staff, or by the league itself.

Either way, they deserve to be lauded for the enterprise. The target crowd was the right one. Few were complaining about getting transport, a ticket, a free T-shirt, and a night out at the cricket. It made for a fine spectacle and cracking atmosphere, especially on weeknights.

The first edition of ILT20 literally limped into life last year. Jason Derulo admirably battled on during the opening ceremony despite being on crutches.

Second time around, there was less stardust, more earthiness, and the competition triumphed because of it.

Instead of platinum-selling recording artists cringing through a routine they hoped no one would remember, each night groups of children were given an experience they likely will never forget.

Hundreds of kids filled dance troupes that were the pre-match entertainment each night. Ahead of the final, many of the players showed their appreciation for them, applauding them before taking the field themselves to play for the title.

The young dancers were not the only ones who made memories that will last a lifetime. Before each game day, 80 children played eight-a-side pairs cricket on the outfield, under the supervision of the Emirates Cricket Board’s development officers Chaya Mughal and Andy Russell.

They were given shirts and caps of whichever franchise was the designated home team that day, and a snack, too.

It was clear that the organisers cared. Rather than awaiting the moment the TV cameras picked them out in the posh seats, as seems to be the standard for leagues the world over these days, leading executives from the competition were out and about absorbing the experiences of Joe Public.

David White, the ILT20’s chief executive, and Mike Fordham, the of head of league operations, were frequently spotted in the fan village, seeing how things were passing off.

At other times they were out on the field hours ahead of the start, making sure the schoolkid cricketers were getting full value for their moment playing at an international cricket stadium. Or in the stands checking out how their parents were finding it.

They were aware of what it means to grass roots cricketers to be able to tread the same grass as their heroes.

The ILT20 might not yet be all things to all people. But Season 2 showed it has a clear eye on who the right people are that it should be appealing to.

Easy tweaks

Season 2 was unquestionably a massive upgrade on the first incarnation of ILT20. Still, there are a few things the organisers might want to consider reassessing for next time around.

November window

It seems likely the tournament will be played twice in the calendar year, with November potentially the time for Season 3.

No matter when it is played, cricket’s tangled global calendar means there will be complications over player availability. It is an almost impossible issue to solve.

Having players arrive en masse once the SA20 was done, or depart for the PSL, did make for problematic following, though. New fans were only just working out their allegiances when their favourite players were heading off some place else.

Super subs

This is an interesting innovation in cricket. It means one extra bowler and one extra batter get a chance per game, and therefore a shot at altering the complexion of a match.

But it is counter productive to one of the main missions of the ILT20. Whenever a substitution was made, it invariably limited the opportunity of a UAE player.

To pick just one example, Ali Naseer barely bowled an over for the Desert Vipers, who were able to supplement their attack with an additional bowler of international renown at the halfway stage. And when they batted second, he was bumped down a place in the batting order.

Strategic time outs

The only thing worse than a strategic time out is two strategic time outs. Cricket has enough natural stoppages already. Enough chances for advertisers to share their message, or for back room staffs to send on tactics.

Additional time outs adding up to five minutes per innings suck the flow out of a game. Often, they are used when a game is all but over anyway, thus rendering any supposed “strategy” chat pointless.

A quick game is a good game, so time outs can get in the bin.

Updated: February 19, 2024, 4:42 AM