Bowled over

Cricket may have taken two centuries to take off in traditional cricketing nations, but in five short years it has become ‘arguably the most popular game in the UAE’

It took a long time for cricket to develop into a global game. The first mention of this notoriously leisurely sport can be found in 16th-century court records in southeast England, and it would take more than 200 years for the British to bring it to countries such as Australia, India and even the USA, where the first international match took place. Yet it has taken just five years for cricket to really take off in the United Arab Emirates.

Since Pakistan played Australia in a One-Day International in Dubai in 2009, not only have top international teams competed in the city, but the emirate is helping to improve the standard of cricket around the world with the ICC Cricket Academy, a training and coaching facility which is used by the world’s leading nations.

Bowled over
‘See you in 2015’: The UAE cricket team have qualified for next year’s Cricket World Cup

Five years since that international game, Australia are back in the UAE to play Pakistan, and with more than 20,000 fans packing into Dubai International Cricket Stadium to watch the recent Twenty20 match between the nations, there’s a captive cricket audience in Dubai. “Cricket here is going places,” says Tim Anderson, the ICC’s Head of Global Development. “Because the largest population base in the UAE comes from the Asian sub-continent and they all love cricket, it’s arguable that cricket is the most popular game in the UAE.”

Since Pakistan played Australia in a One-Day International in Dubai in 2009, not only have top international teams competed in the city, but the emirate is helping to improve the standard of cricket around the world

Given that the UAE national team have qualified for next year’s Cricket World Cup, it’s only going to get bigger. David East, Chief Executive of the Emirates Cricket Board, explained how they are improving standards: “Since we qualified for the World Cup, we put a new high performance structure in place which is based out of the ICC Cricket Academy in Dubai, which is arguably the best cricket academy in the world,” he says. “We use the facilities there and we have an agreement with the ICC Cricket Academy to provide the resourcing for the high-performance function and they’re working extremely hard with the team at the moment to get them prepared for the World Cup in February next year.”

‘One of the national development manager’s objectives will be to increase the amount of Emiratis who are involved in the sport’

David East, Chief Executive, Emirates Cricket Board

The Academy will also benefit the region’s junior players, but the next step is to get Emiratis involved in cricket. “One of the national development manager’s objectives will be to increase the amount of Emiratis who are involved in the sport,” says East. “We’re very keen to try and promote that in schools and put structures in place so that they want to play cricket, be involved in cricket and, hopefully in due course, be of the required standard so that they can represent the national team on merit.”

The first test between Australia and Pakistan begins at Dubai International Cricket Stadium on 22 October