UAE's favourite pastime sport: Car-park cricket

Played by tens of thousands on the weekends, gully or street cricket has no scoreboards, no umpires, and no fixed rules

By Leslie Wilson Jr and Thanweeruddin Mohammad, Videos by Neeraj Murali

Published: Fri 1 Jul 2022, 7:07 PM

Last updated: Sat 2 Jul 2022, 5:22 PM

It’s 5.30am and the first rays of the sun streak across the empty car park. The fajr (morning prayer) is over. A few men are seen gathering around and talking in animated voices. Someone shouts ‘Chalo’ (come on), let’s start”. The signal has been delivered and it’s time.

Hands clap as the bowler begins his run-up to deliver the first ball of the match. Thwack! The sound of the bat hitting the ball is magic and everyone celebrates, even the bowler.

This is the passion of street cricket, one of the most popular recreational sports played in the UAE — primarily by bachelors from the sub-continent.

It is a form of cricket that does not strictly follow the rules and requirements of a formal game. There are no boundaries, batsmen do not wear safety pads, and the ball is not a cricket ball at all. It’s a finely-taped tennis ball. There is no scoreboard; neither are there umpires.

But what it lacks in the fundamentals it makes up for in sheer enjoyment.

What is ‘kacha' or street cricket?

Street cricket, or ‘kacha’ cricket, is typically played on holidays and weekends.

In a street cricket match, the common denominator is fun. All players are focused on enjoying the experience. There is no bias toward winning.

There is also no age restriction; all you need to have is passion. Skills are a bonus. Bowler, batsman, fielder, or wicket-keeper — you can be anything you want. Even your wardrobe does not matter. Track pants, casual clothes, and even a shalwar kameez or national dress are worn.

Street cricket provides a ray of respite to many bachelors after a long, hard week at work.

Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

How popular is it in the UAE

On any given weekend, roughly 20,000 to 25,000 people play or attend a street cricket match. A lucky few will experience something unforgettable which will give them bragging rights until the next weekend.

Others will get to see a batsman hit a towering six over a parked Range Rover, a running catch taken with one outstretched hand, or someone being clean bowled.

It is estimated that over 50,000 matches are played each day on the weekends at over 2,000 venues in the Emirates, including car parks, unused roads, service roads, grounds, and yards.

Why is car-park cricket so popular

“This has been my Sunday morning routine for the past 15 years,” says Shoaib Hussain, who was having the time of his life playing a game of street cricket in the Nad Al Sheba area.

He was not the only one having fun. There was an assortment of over 30 players and the laughter and animated shouts of ‘great shot’ were infectious.

Street cricket is all about moments of action; luckily, such moments are in plenty.

“Some of the guys who play with us are from Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, and Fujairah,” says Hussain.

“They all carpool and drive down to the ground the previous night and camp there until the next morning.

“People like me are crazy about this game. It means everything to us. It’s fun and competitive, and more importantly, it brings communities together. Players come from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and different parts of India. But on the field, we are one: here to make the most of a game of cricket. Nothing beats it.”

The innovative taping of a 'cricket ball'

While a traditional cricket bat is usually a necessary part of the equipment, it does not have to be a professional one made from willow. It can be of any standard, as long as you can hold it comfortably in your hands when striking the ball.

The ball is in street cricket is often made of rubber or hard plastic. However, the most popular option is a tennis ball — because it is less dangerous to use in open places. And because tennis balls tend to bounce a lot, they are covered with insulation tape (electric tape) to reduce the bounce. Watch how it's done:

Wickets are also important to the game, but are of the portable variety used by kids. Sometimes, even a plank of wood is used as a substitute. In the event of a lack of space, players even draw stumps on a wall and have the batsman stand in front of it.

As for the rules, they are completely informal and can change every game depending on the conditions in which it is played.

Global phenomenon

Street cricket is a global phenomenon as it can be played anywhere, everywhere, and at any time: in a parking lot, on a beach, on an empty street, or abandoned ground. Some kids even play it in the corridor of their apartments.

This form of cricket is very popular in countries like Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, where many houses have backyards and spaces suitable to play the game. It is referred to as gully cricket in the subcontinent — namely, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka — and can be played in the smallest of slots in the absence of open spaces.

Even the famous cricketers of the world like Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers from South Africa are happy to hit sixes on roadsides every once in a while!

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