UAE captain Rohan Mustafa expressed his anguish following the cancellation of the UAE T20x tournament that was expected to take cricket in the country to the next level.
The Emirates Cricket Board on Thursday announced that that failure to complete the sale of franchise rights within time meant it wasn’t possible to go ahead with the league that was supposed to start next month. Also, a potential cap on player participation in franchise tournaments from the ICC affected the commercial prospects of the tournament.
The UAE T20x was to be a great opportunity for UAE players to rub shoulders with international superstars like Kumar Sangakkara, Shahid Afridi, Eoin Morgan, David Miller and Andre Russell.
However, that won’t happen now and Mustafa expressed his disappointment at a lost opportunity for UAE cricket.
“Quite disappointing. There were some big names coming to play that tournament. It was a great effort to grow cricket in the UAE,” Mustafa told Sport360.
“The guys are disappointed. These kind of leagues give financial support as well. Every player wanted it. But you can’t do anything.”
Three UAE players were expected in each squad of the five-franchise tournament, which would have been a golden chance to not only gain precious exposure but also open the door to potential contracts in other tournaments where the international stars played. Mustafa lamented the missed opportunity to impress the star names who ply their trade in T20 leagues around the globe.
“When Brendon McCullum was asked ‘what is the difference between you (international stars) and associates’, he simply said ‘opportunity’. No one knows about us, how we play. But we are not too different from international players. Yes, we can’t reach the level of legends. If we perform in front of them, it opens doors for us.
“If a star player is my captain and I do well, it’s a great opportunity as he can recommend me in another league as well. That was a great opportunity for us to play with those who play in almost all leagues in the world.”
Next up for Mustafa is the upcoming T10 league – that starts on November 21 – in which he will turn out for Team Rajputs. But more importantly for him, the UAE team will travel to Pakistan to participate in the Emerging Teams Asia Cup starting December 6.
Mustafa said his focus is on the UAE team and performing well for the country, not worrying too much about franchise cricket.
“In December, we will be travelling to Pakistan for ACC Emerging Teams Asia Cup. If we qualify for semi-finals, we will be travelling from Pakistan to Sri Lanka for semis and final.
“T10 is starting next week. But we are concentrating on our national commitment. Country comes first, whether there is league cricket or not. I will be thinking more about Emerging Teams Asia Cup rather than T10 as I am the leader and I have to perform,” Mustafa said.
“We didn’t perform well in the Asia Cup qualifiers, that was sad for us. We will be facing teams like Hong Kong and our aim now is to do well there.”
Mustafa, and fellow UAE cricketer Mohammad Naveed, will then turn out in the Everest T20 League in Nepal – running from December 8 to 22 – having just completed a stint in the Pokhara Premier League in the same country.
UAE cricket received a setback on Thursday after it was announced that the proposed UAE T20x tournament will not take place this year.
The Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) stated that failure to complete the sale of franchise rights within the stipulated time meant it wasn’t possible to go ahead with the tournament. The statement from the board also said that a potential cap on franchise tournaments from the world body – ICC – affected potential commercial partnerships.
“Following talks between the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) and event promoter OPi, it has been mutually agreed that the planned UAE T20x franchise cricket league will not take place in the UAE this coming December / January,” the statement said.
“The decision follows the conclusion of the Invitation to Tender (ITT) process for tournament franchises. Both the ECB and OPi had been hopeful of achieving the sale of five franchise teams for the first year of the tournament, and whilst negotiations had been completed on two franchise teams and a further three were well advanced, it was felt that there was no longer sufficient time to close the sales process and to successfully deliver and promote a December event.
“OPi, a privately-owned sports promoter, and the ECB had been working together since 2017 to develop the new franchise league, and had attracted interest and support from many of the world’s leading players and coaches. The decision of the International Cricket Council (ICC) in July to explore potential limitations on T20 cricket leagues and player participation in them, meant that investment into UAE T20x had to be curtailed throughout the summer in anticipation of a decision. This in turn impacted timings around commercial conversations with potential franchise buyers.”
Sri Lanka great Kumar Sangakkara had recently joined Pakistani legend Shahid Afridi as the star attraction in the tournament alongside England’s Eoin Morgan, South Africa’s David Miller and West Indian Andre Russell.
UAE T20x was supposed to have five franchise teams. Each squad of 16 was expected to feature international star players, four emerging and junior players, three ICC Associate Member players, and three UAE national players.
His innings as Emirates Cricket Board’s (ECB) chief executive will come to an end next month but David East can reflect back at his six years knowing he leaves UAE cricket in its best position than it ever was before.
The 59-year-old landed in Dubai in January 2013 having ended his 30-year association with Essex where he played as a wicketkeeper-batsman before moving upstairs and serving as their CEO. At the time of his arrival, the UAE national team were made up of amateurs and half-way through of their quest of reaching the 2015 World Cup.
Fast-forward to today and the nation is considered one of the top Associate teams with the ECB’s hard work off the field instrumental to their success.
Under East, the UAE qualified for the 2014 World Twenty20, 2015 World Cup and 2016 Asia Cup. They also showed they have what it takes to host elite tournaments with the Under-19 World Cup and IPL staged on their shores in the space of three months in 2014.
That’s not to mention their historic win over Zimbabwe – their first over a Test nation in March 2018 as well as retaining their ODI status until 2022.
On top of that, the women’s national team were crowned Gulf champions twice and reached the 2018 World Twenty20 Qualifiers in only their second ICC tournament.
Developing the game from grassroots levels, in their bid of producing the next UAE stars, has also had a positive impact with the launch of Inter-Emirates and Academy tournaments for girls and boys.
With such a long list of achievements under his helm, understandably, East had plenty of highlights to choose from with the most extravagant T20 competition in the world among his best moments in charge.
“There are many highlights,” he told Sport360. “The IPL was astonishing as that happened so quickly and delivering it within a short span of time as well was one of the experiences that I will never forget. With there being so much happening at the ECB in the last few years, it’s difficult to highlight individual things but the IPL was an amazing experience from a personal point of view.
“Getting to the 2015 World Cup and seeing the UAE play in New Zealand and Australia is something I will always treasure.”
While all those have been key to the UAE’s rise, the most significant feat was the introduction of their first-ever central contracts in 2016, making their players professional for the first-time. It is a figure that now stands at 13 after deals were renewed until 2020 last month.
Having served as Essex’s CEO in England – a country where the sport has a professional structure in place for county players, East knew it was essential having a roster of full-time men’s players in order to achieve their objectives.
“The biggest challenge that we had was the access to the players. They were still amateur and working in full-time jobs and were only tied together for tournaments,” East added.
“We became concerned that if we didn’t address that, we would be going backwards especially when teams were operating under a central contract system and were seeing great success from it.
“That was one of our main objectives in the early years. To try and ensure structure mechanism for high performance which included central contracts and with it came the relationship with ICC Academy and work with their highly-qualified staff and world-class facilities.”
The ECB added another feather to their cap when they won The Gray-Nicolls Best Overall Cricket Development Programme award in July. It was in recognition of their on-going improvements to UAE cricket and considered highly prestigious by the ICC.
As well as the major achievements mentioned above, there have been new academies set-up as well as an Emirati schools programme to get more locals playing the game.
“A lot of the success of the national cricket team goes to the team and how they have performed,” added East, who received the award during the annual ICC conference in Dublin alongside ECB member Zayed Abbas.
“Underneath that is the development process that has been in put in place and we have brought in new staff members and try to develop in all aspects of the game from grass roots level and above. For the ICC to recognise that with an award was superb which was a huge accolade and deserved recognition to a team that delivered it.”
News of his departure saw members of the UAE team pay tribute to East. Captain Rohan Mustafa, all-rounder Mohammad Naveed and spinner Ahmed Raza were among the seniors to take to social media with the former wicketkeeper described as a ‘father figure’ of UAE cricket.
East said he was flattered to hear such glowing comments and re-emphasised the importance of having a strong relationship with players.
“That was very flattering,” he said. “The players are your most important asset. We needed to ensure we looked after them correctly and nurture them the right way. That’s the way you get the best out of people and I’d like to think that the processes we have put in place have provided that opportunity to grow as individuals and as a team and very grateful to hear that I have contributed towards that.
“I had lovely comments over the last week and it’s very comforting that my work has been recognised.”
When East does land back in England, he plans to recharge his batteries and spend more time with his family before embarking on his next challenge. Whether that is in cricket or not, he insists he will always remain a fan of UAE cricket and predicts a bright future for his to-be former employers.
“My intention is to remain in cricket if I can,” he added. “I will take a decent break as I have been CEO for 18 years without a break. It’s quite demanding job and you’re always on call 24/7. So now I want to recharge the batteries. Of course I will have one eye on the UAE and my old county Essex.”
He added: “I’ve worked with some fantastic people in the UAE and I hope they will remain life-long friends.
“To have a successful national cricket programmes, you’ve got to be multi-causative and that is what I’ve tried to achieve with the staffing and processes that have been put in place to ensure Emirates Cricket is striving. I hope it can continue to do so and whoever comes in (as the next CEO) for the next stage of this can carry that on.”