Interview with MCL Chairman Zafar Shah: 'Players like Wasim Akram, Brian Lara and Adam Gilchrist still have a lot to give'
These days, you would have to find some old videos in order to see the likes of Wasim Akram bowl to Brian Lara or Jacques Kallis or any other retired legend. But thanks to the efforts of Mr. Zafar Shah, we will all have an opportunity to revisit the past in the sport’s most thrilling format (T20).
After launching the tournament that will feature the greats of the game who have retired from international cricket, the MCL Chairman was kind enough to take some time out and speak with Sportskeeda.
Below is the transcript of my chat with him:
Q. First of all, how did this idea come about? Were there any reservations considering the amount of T20 that is being played around the globe?
The idea has been cooking for a while, fueled by personal desires to see the cricket and cricketers I watched while growing up. We have our own domestic team here in the UAE, for which I often bring in a lot of ex-cricketers to play, and they light up the games. The idea stemmed from this and their willingness to play in my domestic matches! They are still fit to play and people want to see them again.
This league will give them a natural progression when they have to make way for the younger players in the national team. We wanted to provide an outlet of financial support and give them career extension. Plus, we believe there is always a market for nostalgia.
These guys made cricket what it is today and served their country for years. So we want to give them a chance to earn some money now while the sport has made insurmountable progression with its finances from the days when these boys used to play and earn very little.
Q. Are there any special provisions like smaller boundaries or substitutions considering the advanced age of the players?
We will have shorter boundaries and many other exciting innovations to make the league both entertaining and unique, also ensuring that our players can remain competitive without killing themselves in the process.
We cannot reveal the innovations just yet, but they are very interesting. The players’ fitness and capability levels may not be what they once were, but a lot of these guys are still extremely fit & competitive and that fighter spirit never dies in a true athlete. So the innovations will aim to work with this spirit to make it a truly entertaining spectacle for all to see.
Q. Talking about their age, did it take a lot of convincing to get the likes of Wasim Akram and Brian Lara on board considering the fact that they are above 45 years of age? And what was their initial reaction?
They were excited about the whole idea and really did not need convincing. They asked why we took so long to come up with this? Kiran More and Sunil Gavaskar were of great help with reaching out to many players. I believe players like Wasim Akram, Brian Lara and even Adam Gilchrist still have a lot to give the game and their fans, even though they have retired from their national duty.
Q. Can you explain us about the format of the tournament? How many matches will each team be playing?
Each team will be playing 5 matches in the round robin stage. In total, there will be 18 matches spread over two weeks.
Q. How will the players be picked? Will we get to see a player auction similar to the one we have in the IPL?
A pool of players is being built currently and will go for final approval to the MCL Governing Council which will then be further vetted by the ICC. Franchise teams will be selected through an auction and each one will have an interesting mix. There will be six teams and each team will have two icons. The players will be acquired by each team through a player auction with a total of 90 players to take part in the league.
Not more than 4 players of the same nationality can be picked on the same team. There is also a chance for associate nation players to showcase their skills alongside the legends, as there’s a minimum requirement of one associate player per team.We want to have players that have made a great impression with their performances to be a part of MCL.
Q. We haven't heard about the presence of Indian players yet. Did you contact any? Can we see the likes of Sachin and Dravid play in this tournament?
Yes, we are in touch with them. Former Indian players have given their best when representing their nation and it will be wonderful to have them on board. It will be exciting to have all the greats in one place.
Q. What is the viewership you are targeting with such a unique league?
Anyone who has watched these players through their career wants to see them play once again. Young kids will have a chance to see the legends that they’ve heard so much about but have never had a chance to see them live in action.
The Masters Champions League involves these icons of the game and offers a unique cricketing experience. This is one of the most awaited events in cricket history and I can’t wait to watch the series. We want the whole family to come and watch the extravaganza.
Q. We spoke about having some Indian players in the league, can you reveal us a bit more about the other legendary names who have been confirmed apart from Lara, Akram, Gilchrist and Kallis?
We cannot reveal the names of any more Icons at this point in time. Other than Lara, Akram, Gilchrist and Kallis, we also have Allan Border, Graham Gooch, Danny Morrison, Ramiz Raja and Kiran More on board, who are a part of the League. These will not be on the playing field, but they are a part of the organization in their own respective roles.
Q. There is a general perception that the tournaments in the middle-east are vulnerable to attract bookies. Do you have plans in place to tackle such situations?
I don’t think that is true. These scandals were way in the past and the ECB, along with the UAE government, have worked extremely hard to get rid of this tag and build an amazing infrastructure for cricket to flourish in the region. Everybody loves to come to the UAE and this positioning has done very well for the sport.
A prime example of the progress made is the decision of the IPL to host its starting fixtures in the region last year. After all the scandals that were associated with the league in the season before, choosing the UAE could have been seen as a risqué decision.
However, I think that the quality of the event organization, lack of scandal and the standard of cricket at present is visible for everyone to see and stands as a true testament to what has been achieved by the cricketing and governmental bodies in the region.
With regards to our MCL, we are following all rules and regulations of the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB), which makes it official for the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI). Anti-corruption measures will be in place nonetheless.We also have a strict policy against bookies and any illegal activities.
Q. Do you have plans to have some matches in India or any other country in the future?
At the moment, no. The tournament will be held in the UAE across three stadiums. The iconic Sharjah Cricket Stadium, the Dubai International Cricket Stadium and Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium will be hosting the matches.