Former cricket icons Kevin Pietersen and Indian Yuvraj Singh have been added to the list of players that will appear in the inaugural cricket series called the Ultimate Kricket Challenge (UKC). The UKC kicks-off from Christmas Eve and will run until New Year’s Day, with Dubai playing the backdrop to an event featuring some of the sport’s biggest hitters, including Chris Gayle and Andre Russell.
As the world of cricket seeks to reach out to new prospective demographics of fans, the UKC marks a sea change in the game’s rules, with some creative alterations designed to create some unique, fast-paced entertainment during the festive season. The main rule change of the UKC is that teams will have not one but four innings each to bat, with each inning spanning just 15 deliveries.
Cricket has been working hard to innovate and improve its entertainment value in recent years. There's been a convenient marriage between the entertainment industry and the sport of late. Disney utilised the Indian Premier League to infiltrate India's digital marketplace, securing the TV and digital rights of the IPL and creating a user base of 25 million-plus streamers in India alone. Cricket has also weaved its way into the world of online casino, with software developers Microgaming launching the Cricket Star slot game on sites like Betway. On the field, the inclusion of tournaments like The Hundred and the UKC are also geared towards building broader appeal. Investments are also being made into America's first major cricket tournament called Major League Cricket.
Kevin Pietersen was one of the first to revolutionise the sport with some deft and innovative shots with the bat, which underlined his status as one of the best batsmen in the world at both Test and One-Day level. Pietersen will be joined by popular Indian all-rounder Yuvraj Singh, who has represented his country in all formats of the sport and is likely to have been saddened by India’s record-breaking collapse in Australia. The veteran 39-year-old made his one-day debut way back in October 2000 and remains a much-loved performer among Indian fans, despite retiring from all forms of international cricket last summer. Singh’s inclusion in the UKC will also ramp up the excitement, with two of the finest technicians with bat and ball coming to the UAE. Singh looks set to use the UKC to get his eye back in, with ESPN’s Crickinfo revealing his inclusion in Punjab’s squad for the 2020-21 domestic T20 season.
Many other stalwarts of the sport have signed up to usher in a new form of cricket, with enigmatic players such as Shahid Afridi and Eoin Morgan also named on the UKC’s official website as some of the marquee names behind the tournament.
What does the Ultimate Kricket Challenge entail?
We’ve already revealed that each team that plays in a UKC match will bat and bowl four times apiece, with 15 balls per innings. Every player will be required to bat and bowl, which explains why so many of the world’s finest all-rounders have signed up. Bowlers will be permitted to use either standard, seam or spin deliveries.
Players will play individually, rather than part of an 11-man cricket team, with the bowler assisted by only one fielder and one wicketkeeper within the UKC game dome. It creates something of a gladiatorial sporting environment - just one batsman and one bowler facing off per game. The scoring system has also had a 21st century revamp for the UKC too. Instead of scoring and running between the wickets, batsmen will have to aim for predetermined ‘scoring zones’. These zones will award anything from one to six runs, depending on which zone the ball enters. There’s even the addition of a zone worth 12 runs whenever a batsman hits the bullseye. The batsman will face all 15 deliveries, regardless of how many times they are declared out.
Each wicket that falls sees five runs deducted from their overall total. Bowlers can claim wickets by bowling the batsman, catching the ball, and running them out. Interestingly dot balls are also a form of a wicket, which helps to encourage batsmen to be aggressive at the crease. The UKC is also a fully indoor tournament, which is another first for the sport.
All six star players entering the tournament will play in a round-robin tournament format, playing one another to determine the top four players in the group. This quartet will advance to the semi-finals, with the semis and the tournament final set to be played over New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. The Wisden site reports the potential for surprise appearances from more former greats in the sport too.
The UKC will be broadcast live in India on the Star Sports network and livestreamed to Indian users via the Disney+ Hotstar platform too.