Chandigarh:Friday, Nov 30, will be a day to remember in Indian cricket history. That's the day when the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL) gets down to the business end and hosts its first 'carnival like' Twenty20 cricket tournament.
Quite a few big guns are here, many of them have just retired from international cricket. They will make Chandigarh their home for the next three weeks. And what's more, the city will also be the focus for the global cricketing community as all cricket fans will be eager to see how the ICL unfolds.
The star cast cobbled up is impressive. There is Lara, who holds some of the most well-known batting world records including a Test match score of 400 runs not out; former Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq and his team-mates, all-rounder Abdul Razzaq and discarded opening batsmen Taufeeq Omar and Imran Farhat; former Sri Lankan skipper Marvan Atapattu, New Zealanders Nathan Astle; Craig Macmillan and Chris Cairns, South Africans Lance Klusener, Nicky Boje and Andrew Hall; Australian Stuart Law. They will all be part of the six club teams named after six major cities.
The tournament, being organized at the Tau Devi Lal sports complex's cricket stadium in the adjoining town of Panchkula in Haryana, 15 km from here, will test the staying power of the ICL as it takes on the mighty cash-rich Indian Cricket Board.
The Board has already labelled the ICL as a 'rebel' league. Its affiliated units have refused their grounds for the ICL. Players and sponsors were dissuaded from associating with the rebels.
The six participating teams comprise Delhi Jets led by Marvan Atapattu, Chandigarh Lions by Chris Cairns, Hyderabad Heroes by Inzamam-ul-Haq, Chennai Superstars by Stuart Law, Kolkata Tigers by Craig Macmillan and Mumbai Champs by Brian Lara.
Besides five international stars in each team, other players will be India discards like Dinesh Mongia, Reetinder Singh Sodhi, J P Yadav and others. The teams will also have many young Indian players. There was an exodus of players from Hyderabad and Punjab.
There are nearly 30 international stars in the line up of 100 cricket players for the first tournament.
The first 20-overs-a-side match will be between hosts Chandigarh Lions and Delhi Jets Friday.
Matches will be played on 13 days in the 17-day tournament. On weekends, there will be two matches. Most matches are in the afternoon and evenings.
The stadium at Panchkula, leased to ICL for 10 years with full backing of the Haryana government, was still being given finishing touches Wednesday even as the players descended at the venue for some practice. New stands have been erected, brand new floodlights are in place and the pavilion and media centre are being readied for the first big event by the ICL.
ICL's chief executive Ashish Kaul said that his organisation does not need either the Indian Board's recognition or their money. "We will put up a good show here and will do it even better next time."
To back its claim, the Zee television network - a company of the ICL promoter Essel group - has taken an unprecedented decision to show 30 minutes of every match live on 25 of its channels during the tournament. The complete live transmission of all T-20 matches will be done on Zee Sports channel.
The Essel Group, which announced ICL April this year, has already promised a pool of Rs. 1 billion for their league.
"The coming of ICL into cricket has meant financial security for young players. Now they need not bother about financial security while playing cricket," former Pakistan skipper Inzamam said here.
ICL chairman Kapil Dev, an Indian cricket legend who captained India's only world cup winning performance in 1983, says that the first ICL tournament will be full of entertainment for cricket lovers.
"It is our baby and if there are any shortcomings, we will learn from this tournament. But we are serious about cricket. It will be a carnival out there," Kapil said.
Akshay and Kareena to add glamour
The ICL, a venture of Essel Group, will have a touch of glamour when their Twenty20 tournament gets under way at the 7,000-capacity Tau Devi Lal Stadium in nearby Panchkula on Friday.
The organisers have roped in filmstars Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar, Kareena Kapoor and others to be here during the tournament. Top industrialist Anil Ambani is also expected to be here.