This UAE official dreams of all-Emirati cricket team

The UAE's impressive performances have inspired Emirati cricket administrator Zayed Abbas' son to play cricket


Rituraj Borkakoty

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Zayed Abbas with his sons Mansoor and Khalifa during the Under 19 Asia Cup final in Dubai. — Photo by Rituraj Borkakoty
Zayed Abbas with his sons Mansoor and Khalifa during the Under 19 Asia Cup final in Dubai. — Photo by Rituraj Borkakoty

Published: Tue 19 Dec 2023, 10:07 PM

Last updated: Wed 20 Dec 2023, 10:11 AM

Having spent several years serving UAE cricket as an administrator, Zayed Abbas was deeply moved by an inspiring story that was taking shape in his family last year.

The Emirati cricket official was in Australia as the chief of the UAE delegation at the 2022 ICC T20 World Cup.

It was already an emotionally fulfilling experience for Abbas to see the UAE record their first-ever win in a T20 World Cup match and young leg-spinner Karthik Meiyappan take a stunning hat trick against Sri Lanka, a Test-playing nation.

But the news he received from his family back home filled his heart with pride.

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“The T20 World Cup last year was the first time at home that my family members, my cousins sat together and watched cricket,” Abbas, a Board Member at the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB), told the Khaleej Times.

“They watched every match of our team, and they also started to learn more about cricket.”

On the right track

Abbas is now over the moon after the UAE’s giant-killing run at the 2023 Under-19 Asia Cup where they made history by beating Sri Lanka and tournament favourite Pakistan to reach the final.

“This is a very crucial moment for us, it’s the result of all the efforts the Emirates Cricket Board has put in since the start,” he said.

“A lot of these under-19 boys are already in the senior team that have played bilateral series against Test-playing teams like New Zealand, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and the West Indies.

“I don’t think any other associate team has done that. I think it’s a unique exposure to face good teams. It shows that we are heading in the right direction.”

10-year project

Abbas also dreams of a UAE cricket team featuring UAE nationals.

The newfound interest in cricket in his family and a new cricketer in Mansoor, his nine-year-old son, have inspired Abbas to dream big.

“My dream is to see an Emirati team 10 years from today. That’s a dream, whether we can achieve it or not, that’s definitely a challenge. But having a good number of Emiratis in the under-19 squad would be very good for our cricket,” he said.

“My target is ambitious, but having an all-Emirati squad in the under-16 10 years from today is the right strategy.

“We have development programmes in schools to get Emiratis into cricket. The ILT20 (UAE’s IPL-style franchise league) is also putting a lot of effort into its school programme. This is a start, there is a long way to go.”

Take a leaf out of a kid's book

Mansoor, Abbas’ son, is a good example of how kids from different backgrounds can take up a new sport.

“My son (Mansoor) had different activities (in school), he was swimming twice a week. Now he says he doesn’t want to continue that anymore. He wants to play cricket,” Abbas said.

“I love it. I want to see more young Emiratis like him play cricket, maybe his friends, his cousins, I just want to see more Emiratis showing an interest in the game.”

A sizeable number of Emiratis played club cricket in the past, and a handful of them, including Sultan Zarawani and Mohammed Tauqeer, even represented the UAE national team at ICC World Cups.

But the number of local players at grassroots levels has dwindled in recent years, forcing the cricket board to bank entirely on expatriates from the Indian sub-continent to build the national team.

While admitting that the Emirati cricket project will require a lot of perseverance from the authorities, the game’s growing appeal could be handy.

“I think having the right programme, having the right initiates to encourage Emiratis to learn the game will be key. But it’s going to be a step-by-step process,” he said.

“Look, you can’t force anyone to play a sport, but you can be there at the right time and the right place to showcase the game and showcase the skills.

“And you know today cricket doesn’t need an introduction. It’s a sport everybody knows about even in this region!”


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