Having brought cricket to the desert in the 1980s, the UAE has gone on to become one of the most popular destinations in international cricket.
With the iconic Sharjah Cricket Stadium leading the way, state-of-the-art stadiums in Dubai and Abu Dhabi have hosted some of the biggest international events over the years, including the 2020 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
But when it comes to the local cricket scene, it’s always the children of the South Asian expats that have dominated.
And Emirates Cricket, the governing body for the sport in the country, knows that without gaining a foothold in the local community, cricket could never become a major player in the sporting landscape of the UAE.
Hence, the cricket board has drawn up plans on popularising the sport among the locals as it hopes to produce more players like Fahad Alhashmi, Sultan Zarawani, Saeed-al-Saffar and Mohammad Tauqir — who are among the few UAE nationals to have played international cricket.
In an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times, Mubashshir Usmani, secretary general of Emirates Cricket, also spoke on the importance of laying a strong foundation at the grassroots level for all communities.
Q. Emirates Cricket has put a lot of emphasis on developing young talent. Now how happy are you with the progress made by youngsters since the introduction of the D10 (July-August 2020) event and the D20 tournament, which started this month. These events, after all, have been organised to give talented young players a chance to play with the established UAE players...
We are very excited with the talent that has been unearthed by the Emirates D10 and the Emirates D20. These short formats of the game are very competitive and provide for thrilling cricketing action. The board is cognisant of providing such opportunities where we can identify young talent and then integrate them into an effective, professional strategy with the ultimate aim of building a strong national team.
Q. You have launched two tournaments in the T10 and T20 formats. Can we also expect to see a D50 (50 overs format) tournament in the near future?
At this stage our focus remains on Domestic 10-over and 20-over format competitions. That being said, we are actively in talks with various partners to create a sustainable domestic calendar that includes various formats.
Q. Apart from being the head coach of the UAE national team, Robin Singh is also the Director of Cricket. He oversees junior cricket in the country. What are the new plans that Robin Singh and the ECB will implement for the growth of cricket at the grassroots level?
Robin, supported by our coaching staff, will be implementing various strategies and programmes at the grassroots level and we hope to be in a position to announce these plans early in the new year.
Q. We know taking cricket to the Emiratis is one of the big aims of the ECB. We have spoken to few cricket academies in Dubai and they said they would be offering free coaching to Emirati children to promote the sport among the locals. Can you share with our readers any plans that your board may have made in terms of popularising the sport among the UAE citizens?
Emirates Cricket currently has a long-standing agreement to take the game to 30 KHDA approved (mixed nationality) schools and 30 Ministry of Education approved (Emirati) schools across the UAE to develop Emirati cricket talent. Our National Development team, under Andrew Russell, also holds regular training programmes for the Physical Education teachers at these schools to ensure the programmes delivered are compliant with both Emirates Cricket and ICC development programmes. At this time these activities are on hold due to Covid-19 and we hope to recommence this programme, re-engage with our local schools, and the Emirati youth earlier in the new year.
Q. Finally, would you like to share with us when we can see the UAE national team back in action again? International cricket has resumed with almost all the teams are now back in the thick of things.
Talks are underway with various Associate and full-member unions to recommence international matches — these talks are very encouraging and are ongoing. We hope and are aiming for our men’s national team to be in a position to compete early in 2021, followed soon thereafter by our U19s and then our women’s national team later in the year.
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