New Delhi: West Indies batting great Brian Lara leads the star parade at a rebel Twenty20 League that kicks off Friday in India after stirring up a storm with officialdom.
The inaugural Indian Cricket League (ICL), fronted by India's own cricketing legend Kapil Dev, will be played at Panchkula, an industrial town on the outskirts of the northern Indian city of Chandigarh.
"We are keeping our fingers crossed. At the moment, we are excited and nervous. ICL is our baby and we are hoping everything goes off well," Dev said.
The lead-up to the league has been marred by spats with the Indian Cricket Board (BCCI) which is planning to launch its own Twenty20 competition next year with backing from the International Cricket Council.
The BCCI, aiming to be the sole crusader of the lucrative crowd-pulling format in cricket-mad India, has been clearly rattled by the ICL ever since it was launched in May this year.
It has banned cricketers signing up with ICL from representing the country, forcing the new league to file an ongoing case challenging BCCI's monopoly over the sport.
The BCCI, which refused to provide any of its stadiums for the tournament, has also been accused of sabotage and trying to lure ICL's star players.
"We could allow the foreign players to play in the Indian Premier League (IPL) if they terminate their contracts with ICL," BCCI vice-president Rajiv Shukla declared on Monday.
"We have been approached by a number of players who have aligned with ICL. They want to come back. But as of now, the Board has not arrived on a consensus about a general amnesty to them."
A top ICL executive shot back, saying they expected such last-minute overtures from the Board.
"We were expecting it. The BCCI can stoop low and do this. They tried to do it earlier as well by spreading rumours that Lara was planning to join them," he said in Panchkula on Tuesday.
The ICL has not managed to lure any top current player but does boast of such internationals as Pakistan's Inzamam-ul Haq, Sri Lanka's Marvan Atapattu, New Zealand's Chris Cairns and South Africa's Lance Klusener.
Lara, on his part, has urged the boards to review their stand of banning players aligning with the ICL.
"The reaction from the established cricket bodies was on expected lines but still I was disappointed," said Lara who will captain Mumbai Champs.
"The intentions are quite honourable and I hope down the line people will understand what this league is all about and accept it."
Atapattu, who quit the game this month after a verbal bashing of the Sri Lankan selectors, also made a similar plea.
"I don't think ICL should be blocked in any way. In fact, we need more such initiatives to groom talent. They (the boards) are not doing any good by putting sanctions," he said.
"IPL has dragged in all the current players but ICL also has fresh talent on display. That is where the difference lies, I think it will be a hit with the spectators," said Atapattu who will lead the Delhi Jets team.
All the matches of the six-team competition, which will have Tony Greig and Dean Jones among commentators, would be played at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium with the finale scheduled for Dec 16.