BY Razia Desai
It might have been Robert Mugabe saying it, but the old rogue had a point: “I want everyone to play cricket in Zimbabwe” the president once said. “I want ours to be a nation of gentlemen.” A civilized country should indeed be able to hold its own in the sporting arena. And the United Arab Emirates (UAE) understands that well.
With the support of its patrons, cricket has taken off in a big way in recent years. Flashback to March 3, 2009, the world was aghast at the images of the Sri Lankan team cricket being fired upon by 12 gunmen in Lahore. In response, the UAE was decided upon as the perfect home-away-from-home for the Pakistani cricket team. But no one expected this state of affairs to last for quite so long.
Even now, Test nations are refusing to tour Pakistan due to its precarious security situation, so the Pakistan team is currently playing a series against England in the UAE. The tournament comprises three Tests, four One Day Internationals (ODIs) and three Twenty20s (T20s), which began on October, 13 and will go on until Nov. 30.
Pakistan have long turned the spin-friendly pitches into home turf and are yet to lose a home series in the UAE. The wider impact of the games can be seen at a grassroots level. Almost every former cricketer of note has made it to these shores in the last four years, ostensibly to attend cricket-school clinics. 2014 saw the most noticeable developments, with the Under-19 Cricket World Cup hosted in the Emirates. The fact that the first 15 days of the Indian Premier League attracted one full house after the other did not go unnoticed by the game’s sponsors and administrators.
On the sidelines of the official International Cricket Council (ICC) accredited tournaments, smaller affairs are organized annually by Emirates Airlines as well a fast bowling Pakistan Cricket Board initiative organized for construction company workers.
With an Afghanistan-Zimbabwe series in the pipeline, Pakistan’s home-grown Super League, the privately owned Masters Champion League, as well as some English county games planned for early 2016, the UAE has got the ball rolling.
Additional developments have also taken place at the three stadiums in regular use for these matches. Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi has attracted large crowds on the weekends and now has two more practice Ovals. Dubai international Stadium was initially difficult to get to, but with the help of Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority, it now features a bus service to the area. Sharjah stadium has loyal fans and is also used by the Afghanistan team as a home base. Due to touring teams practicing at the international standard ICC Academy pitches, children’s classes and coaching camps led by former players, have grown in popularity. A new cricket ground has also been built in Ajman.
As of now, the first Test between Pakistan and England has come to a draw, whilst the second and third Tests were won by Pakistan. With tickets for the upcoming ODIs and T20s in high demand, cricket in the UAE has come up trumps once again.
Cricket mania is beginning to spread across the region, with Qatar now hoping to compete as an additional venue for touring teams.