Steve Smith will now have some free time in January.
Steve Smith will now have some free time in January.

Steve Smith will have to change his Christmas plans

The calls for Steve Smith to return to Australian domestic cricket before his 12-month ban is up will likely get louder after a rival T20 league he'd signed with folded before it even begun.

Last month it was reported Smith had signed with the UAE T20X league, which would run across December and January - the same time as Australia's Big Bash League (BBL).

But tournament organisers have been forced to cancel it because of an inability to sell three of the five franchises in time, according to ESPNCricinfo.

The initiative was a venture between the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) and the OPi group and was originally given the tick of approval by the ICC to run for 10 years. But it won't even get off the ground in year one.

"Following talks between the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) and event promoter OPi, it has been mutually agreed that the planned UAE T20X franchise cricket league will not take place in the UAE this coming December/January," a statement released by the ECB said.

"The decision follows the conclusion of the Invitation to Tender (ITT) process for tournament franchises.

"Both the ECB and OPi had been hopeful of achieving the sale of five franchise teams for the first year of the tournament, and whilst negotiations had been completed on two franchise teams and a further three were well advanced, it was felt that there was no longer sufficient time to close the sales process and to successfully deliver and promote a December event."

Smith was one of several high profile stars to have signed with the UAE league who will now either be enjoying a holiday over the festive period or looking for another way to fill their time. David Miller (South Africa), Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka), Eoin Morgan (England), Andre Russell (West Indies) and Shahid Afridi (Pakistan) had all been announced as icon players for the league.

The ECB's statement said earlier discussions involving the ICC in which the prospect of limiting players to competing in three T20 leagues per year was raised had contributed to a lack of confidence in the UAE experiment.

"OPi, a privately-owned sports promoter, and the ECB had been working together since 2017 to develop the new franchise league, and had attracted interest and support from many of the world's leading players and coaches," the statement said.

"The decision of the ICC in July to explore potential limitations on T20 cricket leagues and player participation in them, meant that investment into UAE T20X had to be curtailed throughout the summer in anticipation of a decision.

"This in turn impacted timings around commercial conversations with potential franchise buyers."


Smith has been keeping busy playing club cricket.
Smith has been keeping busy playing club cricket.

Smith still has roughly four months left to serve of his ban, which prohibits him from playing international or state cricket, and he is back playing Sydney club cricket for Sutherland while his former national team colleagues prepare for an upcoming Test series against India.

Many former players have come out and criticised the optics of Smith and David Warner being able to play in T20 leagues around the world but not in Australia. Former Aussie captain Allan Border is among those who have said if Smith and Warner are able to play in places like Canada and the West Indies, they should be welcomed back into the BBL to help promote the league and act as learning resources for youngsters to tap into.

In the wake of the damning reviews that highlighted a culture of arrogance and bullying within Cricket Australia (CA), the Australian Cricketers Association (ACA) has lobbied for the bans imposed on Smith, Warner and Cameron Bancroft to be overturned, arguing the trio shouldn't shoulder all the blame for the ball tampering scandal in South Africa.

CA has repeatedly denied it will cut the suspensions short but now Smith has no cricket on his calendar over the Christmas and New Year period, the governing body will likely face pressure to allow him - and Warner and Bancroft - to play in the BBL.