Where have all cricket grounds in UAE gone?
Cricket, the great leveller - a construction worker at an industrial area in Sharjah gives it a shot - KT photo
Dubai - The UAE grapples with a lack of affordable playing facilities - putting local cricketing talent in the lurch.
If you want to swing your cricket bat around or a bowl a few googlies, then the UAE is not a very hospitable place. Residents, especially kids, who love the game, are not being able to zero in on proper - and affordable - facilities; consequently, they end up playing on roads/pavements in residential areas, or on bare tracts of sand. No green turf or marked-out pitches. No boundary line. You don't even know if you've hit a 4 or a 6.
Seems a bit odd when you consider the rich cricketing history this country has - remember the CBFS series that started in the mid-80s when teams took part in three-nation and four-nation play-offs on a regular basis, and made cricket part of the mainstream here?
Eleven-year-old Shourya Ganguly, a big fan of Virat Kohli, says the main reason why he likes visiting his grandparents in Kolkata, India, is because he gets to play cricket at a local club. Back here in Dubai, he plays cricket with the boys in the open parking lot of a nearby building. "I have a friend who lives there, but most building residents get annoyed, and we have to stop every time someone passes us by. I wish I could have played cricket here as easily as I do in Kolkata."
|Cricket in the UAE: High points|
In 1994, the UAE won the ICC Trophy on debut.
In 1996, the UAE first qualified for the ICC World Cup.
In August 2005, the ICC moved its offices to Dubai, and closed its offices at Lord's and Monaco. The move to Dubai was made after an 11-1 vote by the ICC's executive board in favour.
The UAE national team played its first One-Day International in 1994. At the 2014 World Cup qualifier, the UAE was placed second behind Scotland, qualifying for the 2015 World Cup and gaining ODI status until 2018. Emirati national Mohammad Tauqir is the captain of the team.
Between 1984 and 2003, the Sharjah ground was the venue for 206 ODIs held as part of commercially spon-sored tournaments involving three or four international teams. The tournaments were organised by Cricketers Benefit Fund Series (CBFS).
Till 2006, there weren't these complaints. The Dubai Cricket Council (DCC), set up in 1990, had a two-turf and three-cement wicket setup. There were floodlit nets at nominal rates for anyone wanting to have a go at the four-pitch facility, including turf wickets next to five ovals. The DCC grounds were taken over by Dubai Municipality for its city planning needs around the Al Jadaf and Al Wasl areas.
Today, the DCC is the first to admit that cricket is suffering on account of this. Abdulrahman Falaknaz, chairman of the council, tells Khaleej Times: "School children are the biggest losers without any structured centre to encourage and guide them. But we've promised an alternate centre.. we are looking at setting up a two-ground facility - one turf and one cement - the place and details of which I cannot disclose yet."
Only a handful of schools in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah have grass fields, some with turf wickets and a few with cement wickets. Then, there are other venues available only to 'privileged' children whose parents can afford the coaching sessions. "Children and grownups who want to play cricket have a difficult time these days with no affordable grounds," points out Jairaj Thakur, currently a coach here. Echoing his sentiments, cricketer Mohammed Lokhandwala, former Indian Railways Ranji Trophy probable, and who was once the livewire of the sport here, adds, "Today the availability of affordable grounds is at a minimal with only a handful of schools and academy-based facilities being available."
Karan Achutanant, a 12th grader at Our Own High School, Al Warqa, says, "We practise on the cement pitch in school and do fielding practice on the soccer ground available, which is gravel top. Today, unless you are in a school that maintains turf facilities, we cannot play on proper grass tops unless we are in a tournament."
The newest member on board of the Emirates Cricket Board set-up - the Ajman Cricket Council - and other support units of the cricket scene here like in Umm al Quwain and Al Ain, have made grounds available for inter-club and regional tournaments and exhibition matches in the UAE. However, these grounds are all available on a commercial basis and more inclined to have corporate entries. But Ajman does have plans for a long-term cricket complex and a nursery to tap talent in the future.
The UAQ body is also doing its bit to promote the game as it offers schoolchildren facilities literally free of cost - unless it's not an organised academy or inter-school based event.
One of the venues that's a beacon for those who love playing cricket in Dubai is Zabeel Park. The park's facilities include a well-maintained grass field, a cement wicket, and basic floodlight arrangements for day/night matches. Bookings can be done and the rates are still quite affordable on an hourly and daily basis depending on availability. But Tobin Tom, university student in Dubai, says, "It takes two months to book a weekend slot at Zabeel, so we play on a sandy tract in Al Ghusais."
So clearly, this is not enough. And till more facilities are created, cricket will continue to be on a losing streak.
Kids play cricket on the pavement in Bur Dubai
Cricket fever: boys are plying cricket at Al ithaad park in Sharjah. —KT FILE
Cricket gets underway at the Abu Dhabi Corniche. Lack of facilities don’t deter people of all age groups from playing — KT photo