Paul Collingwood and Brian Lara sense ‘competitive edge’ ahead of MCL start

'I do expect to play hard,' said West Indies batting great Brian Lara as teams step up preparations ahead of Thursday's start to the Masters Champions League in Dubai.

Paul Collingwood, former England cricketer, giving coaching class to the UAE cricket team at the ICC Academy in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
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DUBAI // Unsurprisingly, it was the renowned straight-shooting Graeme Swann who said it like it is back in December when the Masters Champions League (MCL) held its player auction.

Plenty of big money was spent that day, on a collection of long-retired legends and still-active players: the six franchises spent US$4.2 million (Dh15.4m) in total. That kind of money, said Swann, would have jarred any players thinking this to be a “jolly”.

“I think the realisation of how much money is at stake now and there are owners here who want results makes you pull your fingers out of your backside,” he had said.

“You can’t just turn up and treat it as a jolly. It’s not a holiday, it’s a serious tournament and each player will feel that when they get here.”

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Well, they are here now and if we cannot quite predict the quality of the contests we are about to witness over the next two weeks, we can safely assume that there will be a degree of competitiveness.

That, after all, is just the natural result when you throw a group of elite sportsmen, retired or otherwise, together into a league, arrange them into teams, give them an incentive to play for and reward them well.

Through 18 matches and two weeks, in Dubai and Sharjah, that is the one truth all players will attest to, whether you are Brian Lara, retired in 2007, or the Australian Ben Laughlin, who took the wicket of Shane Watson in the Big Bash League semi-final last week and is here for the Capricorn Commanders.

That is what Paul Collingwood, who will lead the Commanders in the tournament, realised the other night as he oversaw a training session for his side in Dubai.

“You could sense that the competitive edge is there,” he said on Monday. “Once you get international cricketers together, no matter where they are from around the world, they want to win. They have pride in their performance.”

As if to emphasise the point, much of the pre-tournament talk from three teams on Monday concerned itself with cricketing matters: the time for revelling in the novelty of such a concept is over.

The pitches, and adapting to them, will be key; the team combinations will have to be right; fielding and running between the wickets will be important; athleticism will be vital; currently active players will make a huge difference. In other words, this will be no holiday.

“First of all, speaking on my behalf, I do expect to play hard,” said Lara, who will be leading the Leo Lions. “I would not be here otherwise if I couldn’t play hard. We are looking for a team performance more than anything else.

“We have a good group of guys. If we can get the team working well, we can win matches.”

He said great former players maintain that ability but will be more vulnerable to good bowling. “People know Virender Sehwag and what he is capable of but he might not be able to manoeuvre the ball like he once did 10-15 years ago and we will work on that,” Lara said.

“Whoever we come up against, [Adam] Gilchrist, [Jacques] Kallis, you target their faults as quickly as possible.”

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