Sir Alastair Cook, former England captain and their highest run-getter in Tests, is camping in Abu Dhabi as part of Essex preparations for the County season back home. Image Credit: Reuters

Abu Dhabi: The Sheikh Zayed Stadium has, like in the past, become the hub for pre-season preparations for two English County teams this year with Essex and Somerset setting up base for a 11-day high-performance camp.

Essex captain Sir Alastair Cook leads his team’s trip to the UAE capital, returning to a venue that holds great memories for the former England skipper. Cook, the highest run-getter for his country in Tests with 12,472 runs, had his second-highest score with an epic 263 against Pakistan at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in 2015 and also represented Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) in the County Champion match at the same ground earlier that year.

“It’s always great to come back to place where you scored runs. When you’ve played one of those innings, you look back on them with great fondness,” said Cook. “The facilities here are fantastic, we’re incredibly well looked after by everyone and, for us as a county, it’s served us really well.

“We notice every time we come back that [Abu Dhabi Cricket] gets bigger and better. It’s an incredible project and it’s a sports village now. You’d be hard pressed to find anywhere in the world a facility in a few years’ time that caters for as many sports.”

The two clubs touched down at the multi-sports hub at the weekend and will play each other in two T20 matches, a 45-over game and a two-day fixture during their stay. The T20 games will be in the form of a double-header at the Tolerance Oval on Friday (March 11) played at 2.30pm and 6.30pm GST, with the second of those games broadcast live via Abu Dhabi Cricket’s YouTube channel.

Meanwhile, Somerset’s current England international Tom Banton, who lifted the Abu Dhabi T10 trophy with Deccan Gladiators at the end of last year is also excited to be back. “I’m back here in Abu Dhabi for the third year in a row,” said Banton. “I’ve been here with several different franchises and every year it seems to get better and better and the boys love it here.

Tom Banton in full flow during the Abu Dhabi T10 tournament. Image Credit: Supplied photo

“The last time we were here, for the Abu Dhabi T10, we managed to win the competition with the Deccan Gladiators, which was probably one of my highlights over the last few years so I’m really looking forward to getting going.”

The visit of eight-time County Championship winners Essex and inaugural T20 Blast champions Somerset marks the return of major international hosting at Abu Dhabi Cricket. Both County teams will not only play four games on matches at the Tolerance Oval and Mohan’s Oval, but also make use of the 20 international nets and state-of-the-art Bodyline gymnasium on the same site.

It comes just two weeks after Abu Dhabi Cricket Council launched its new strategic vision for community cricket in the emirate and the capability to serve both top-tier professional cricket and all aspects of the domestic game highlights the versatility of the facility.

“It’s always a thrill to have players of the highest calibre be with us at Abu Dhabi Cricket and to have them mixing with our Abu Dhabi community at the same time creates a real buzz around the venue,” said Abu Dhabi Cricket CEO Matt Boucher.