Dubai: An intense battle of nerves and skills will be on display when the International League T20 playoffs begin with table toppers Gulf Giants taking on second placed Desert Vipers in Qualifier 1 on Wednesday at the Dubai International Stadium, while MI Emirates challenge Dubai Capitals in the Eliminator at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Thursday.
No team can be assured of a victory as it hasn't been a smooth ride for them into the playoffs with all four having tasted defeats during the course of the competition. Gulf Giants stands tall with only one defeat against Sharjah Warriors who got eliminated in the last league round match.
All others have lost over three matches, thus making the playoffs to be an interesting contest. Every team will have to produce their best to advance to the final. Given that each of the four teams have internationally acclaimed limited over cricket players, they can be expected to turn the course of the match any moment.
The DP World ILT20 with a total prize money of USD 1.3m will see the winners walk away with a whopping $700,000 (USD) while the runners-up receive $300,000 (USD).
Gulf Giants have lived up to their name as the giant killers. Their skipper James Vince leads from the front with 321 runs from eight matches at an average of 45.85. They have David Wiese, who is the highest wicket-taker with 15 wickets. The other giants in the team are strike bowlers Chris Jordan, the indomitable hard-hitter Shimron Hetmyer, and two UAE players -- Sanchit Sharma and 17-year-old Ayan Khan -- who have contributed immensely to their team's successful run in the tournament.
Speaking about the factors behind his team's success, Captain James Vince said, "We play every game to try and win it. Great to see guys come in and do well. Conditions will be different for the Wednesday game, but we will approach that match in the best way possible."
Desert Vipers has time and again proven that on their day they can sting their opponents hard. They have Alex Hales, the highest run getter of the tournament so far with 465 runs and an average of 58.12, the consistent Sam Billings and bowlers Sheldon Cottrell and Wanindu Hasranga. UAE players Rohan Mustafa and Shiraz Ahmed has been outstanding performers for them too.
Speaking about what makes their team special, skipper Colin Munro said, "Everyone has been unbelievable. From the background staff, going back to people in the commercial office, guys doing the media stuff, everyone that's part of the family. We set out the tournament as a new franchise, as a new team, and we're trying to make it to the final, and we're on our way there."
MI Emirates is the team that dazzles with their mix of youth and experience. They have an inspiring leader in West Indies giant Kieron Pollard who sparkles with the bat and ball, and is capable of single-handedly turning the tide of the match. He is backed by his countrymen Andre Fletcher and Nicholas Pooran who can take their team to victory on their day.
Standing tall over all the top players has been UAE's pride and consistent performer and opener Muhammad Waseem with his national teammate Zahoor Khan, who has proved to be as an excellent strike bowler. The never say die spirit of veterans Dwayne Bravo and Imran Tahir has egged everyone in the team to give their best.
Asked about the team's approach, Pollard revealed his approach: "It's just a matter of understanding and easing the pressure on the boys in the new franchise so that they can understand their roles. We basically break it down for them. It's a matter of putting all the pieces of the puzzle together and playing exciting cricket that MI is known to play."
Though Dubai Capitals clinched the last spot in the playoffs, they are a dangerous team on their day as they proved in their last match against MI Emirates when they pulled of a seven-wicket win. They have batsmen who can turn the course of the match any time with the likes of experienced Robin Uthappa, George Munsey, Dasun Shanaka and Rovman Powell at the top. All-rounder Sikandar Raza's contribution has been immense.
If these stars are not enough, they have UAE's strike bowlers Hazrat Luqman and Akif Raja who have proven to be excellent breakthrough bowlers, along with Jake Ball and Fred Klaassen, who are capable of restricting any opponent. Yusuf Pathan, who took charge of captaincy from the last match said, "It feels great to be in the playoffs. The group is confident as well. We played really well in our last match. We need to continue doing the good things we did against MI Emirates. We have played well against them in both our league stage matches."
The ILT20 playoffs will also witness some of the world's most renowned match officials in action. Roshan Mahanama and Alex Wharf will be the on-field umpires for Qualifier 1, while Richard Kettleborough and Leslie Reifer will be the officiating as the third and fourth umpires in the game. Meanwhile, Shiju Mannil will be the match referee for the match at the Dubai International Stadium on Wednesday.
The Eliminator game will see Simon Taufel and Richard Kettleborough as on-field umpires. Ruchira Palliyaguruge and Martin Saggers will be the third and fourth umpires. Akbar Ali Khan will officiate as the match referee at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Thursday.
Roshan Mahanama and Leslie Reifer will be the on-field umpires in Qualifier 2. Martin Saggers and Alex Wharf will support them as third and fourth umpires, while Shiju Mannil will be the match referee for the game at the Dubai International Stadium on Friday.
Simon Taufel and Richard Kettleborough will take charge as on-field umpires in the final. Meanwhile, Alex Wharf and Leslie Reifer will be the third and fourth umpires. Ruchira Palliyaguruge will be the match referee for the final at the Dubai International Stadium on Sunday.
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