Dubai: The UAE cricket team returned to the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2015, with their campaign in Australia and New Zealand the first since 1996.
But the squad was made up of players who are mostly around, or even well past, the age of 30. If the UAE is to continue making a mark in international cricket and qualify again to play in another World Cup, they urgently need replacements for the many ageing players in the squad. Are there enough talented players here to step into these slots and steer the country to greater glory?
Though a month has passed since the UAE’s return, no one is sure from where the new generation of players will emerge. Cricketers have to be groomed, embedding in them the correct basics of the game. Are the commercial academies in the UAE capable of producing fresh talents? Do they have the facilities needed for sharpening their skills?
“We need more facilities to be productive and effective to impart result-oriented methods in coaching,” says Presley Polonnowita, the founder and head coach of the Desert Cubs Cricket Academy.
“We need support from the cricket councils or International Cricket Council (ICC) to help us upgrade our facilities. We would like to get training equipment at subsidised rates so that we can provide more advanced training programmes for budding cricketers.”
There is a school of thought that says the cricket academy business is flourishing here. Most parents are willing to invest to get the best coaching for their children, but they also doubt whether their money will yield results in the long run.
Many parents believe the Indian Premier League is rewarding skilful players with a comfortable future, hence the game is now a career option — so they are willing to invest heavily to get the best training for their children, making it a competitive market.
“Any child who is taught the basics and groomed to become a good player from an academy needs a stage to display their skills. Unfortunately in the UAE there is a huge shortage of tournaments for juniors. Everyone expects a youngster to become a UAE player without making their name through tournaments,” says Gopal Jasapara, head coach of G Force Cricket Academy.
Unlike in Test-playing countries, the board that controls the game here — the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) — does not have its own academy. And only two of the individual emirates’ cricket councils have got their own academies — Sharjah Cricket Council has the Sharjah Cricket Academy at Sharjah Cricket Stadium and Abu Dhabi Cricket Council has the Zayed Cricket Academy at the Zayed Cricket Stadium.
The Dubai Cricket Council (DCC) saw its once-popular academy shut down due to the city’s construction boom, which resulted in them losing their premises in the Al Jaddaf area. Though the DCC could not reopen its academy, a few enterprising individuals stepped forward to set up private academies to cater to the demand.
After a modest beginning with only cement tracks to provide coaching, some of them have risen to create turf pitches for training.
Dubai Sports City’s International Cricket Council (ICC) Academy, with its state-of-the-art facilities and qualified coaches, takes pride of place. Its indoor and outdoor facilities are on a par with the best in the world and are managed by the ICC.
Most privately-run academies use schools and college premises to run their activities. Some have even entered into tie-ups with English county teams and many foreign international academies. They also regularly fly their trainees out for matches abroad to gain exposure, while some academies even conduct tournaments abroad, inviting local teams to participate.
But are these efforts enough to produce world-class players? The UAE does not have top international cricketers-turned-coaches like in Test-playing nations — except for former Pakistan star Mudassar Nazar at the ICC Academy.
Other academies here overcome this defect by flying in the world’s best coaches to conduct coaching camps and clinics. Gary Kirsten, Dav Whatmore, T.A. Sekar, Jonty Rhodes and Saqlain Mushtaq have all shared their expertise with youngsters here.
The huge demand for quality training has resulted in many cricketers like Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff expressing a desire to set up an academy here.
Despite all this, being an expat-oriented sport, the biggest drawback has been the exit of promising cricketers after being groomed. Most trainees after school or college return to their home country, nullifying all efforts put in by these academies to nurture a UAE star.
As Shehzad Altaf, a UAE 1996 World Cup player and head coach of Young Talents Academy, summed it up: “There are many UAE-born cricketers in our academy though they are expatriates. I have been sending them to India and the UK to play league cricket, but they can always return and represent the UAE. All we can do is give them the guidance and coaching to becoming top players.”