Kolkata: When rains were playing havoc with the World Test Championship (WTC) final in Southampton last month, former England star Kevin Pietersen pitched for Dubai as the ideal venue for the showpiece in future.
‘KP,’ who doesn’t believe in mincing words, said Dubai would have been an ideal venue for the final. “Neutral venue, fabulous stadium, guaranteed weather, excellent training facilities and a travel hub! Oh, and ICC home is next to the stadium,” he said on social media.
Pietersen’s remarks, in a way, reflected the ringing endorsement for the growth that UAE - an associate member country of the ICC - has made over the last couple of decades to emerge as the most sought-after destination as a neutral cricket venue in the world. It may be a coincidence, but fittingly so, that the country has been the chosen one to play hosts of the T20 World Cup later this year on the 50th year of it’s formation.
The confirmation that the three international stadia in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah will be hosting the cricket showpiece which was supposed to have been held in India - means it’s going to be a bonanza of top flight T20 action over two months from mid-September to mid-November. The Who’s Who of world cricket will start converging there from early September to play the remaining part of IPL 2021 (which had to be suspended in India due to positive Covid-19 cases among the teams) - to be followed by the qualifiers of the World T20 in the neighbouring Oman before the tournament proper gets underway in the UAE.
What’s even more interesting is that the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB), the governing body of the game in the country, got the go-ahead from the rulers to throw their hat in the ring - along with 16 other countries - to play hosts to any of the eight men’s ODI and T20 events after the 2023 cycle. The events at stake are two ICC Men’s Cricket World Cups, four ICC Men’s T20 World Cups and two ICC Champions Trophies scheduled to be staged from 2024-2031 and ICC members were invited to submit a preliminary technical proposal as a potential host.
This included individual submissions as well as joint proposals and countries who have made initial submissions are: Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, Ireland, Malaysia, Namibia, New Zealand, Oman, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies, UAE, USA and Zimbabwe. While the bigger players are expectedly there, the amount of confidence and goodwill that the UAE has managed to generate with the ICC and it’s influential Board members that it won’t be a surprise to see them playing hosts to at least one or two such mega events.
“Cricket has more than a billion fans around the world and ICC events have a proven track record of bringing significant economic and social benefits for host countries. These events provide hosts with a wonderful opportunity to work closely with local communities to grow the game - whilst supporting economic and social development public policy goals,’’ remarked Geoff Allardice, Acting Chief Executive of the ICC.
An emboldened UAE, who had for long been content to offer themselves as gracious events - be it playing the ‘home’ venue for Pakistan when no international teams were visiting there for more than 10 years or hosting the Pakistan Super League, the IPL or be the common meeting ground for the Asia Cup in 2018 so that India and Pakistan could play each other on a neutral turf - has now decided to take the next big leap forward.
I had said during the 2014 edition of IPL here that it’s (UAE) just the right choice if the IPL had to ever move overseas – because of the excellent infra-stucture and overwhelming number of Indian expats here. As things stand out, there are not too many countries in the world now which can safely host international matches in view of the COVID-19 situation
Last year, when the UAE were hosting the IPL 2020 without a fuss amid a raging pandemic, Ravi Shastri - head coach of the Indian team - almost saw this coming. Always a vocal supporter of the UAE’s potential as a cricket venue, Shastri told Gulf News during a chat: ‘’I had said during the 2014 edition of IPL here that it’s just the right choice if the IPL had to ever move overseas – because of the excellent infra-stucture and overwhelming number of Indian expats here. As things stand out, there are not too many countries in the world now which can safely host international matches in view of the COVID-19 situation.
‘‘If all goes well, then UAE should be in the running to host any major ICC event as well as bi-lateral series in future,’’ Shastri said. The IPL 2020 went off without a hitch and the ECB signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the BCCI for staging of major events in future.
The evolution from a desert cricketing venue in Sharjah, thanks to the pioneering vision of Abdul Rehman Bukhatir and his Cricketers’ Benevolent Fund Series (CBFS) in early 1980s, to arguably the most sought-after neutral cricket destination, took a timespan of approximately 40 years.
In cricketing parlance, they have built their innings well so far - it’s now time carry on from here...
A formidable trio of venues: At a glance
Sharjah Cricket Stadium, Sharjah
The oldest of the three international stadia in the UAE, it holds the Guinness record for the most One-day Internationals. It was originally constructed in the early 1980s and has undergone many a makeover in the subsequent years. It hosted its first international matches in April 1984 in the Asia Cup.
In 2010, at the behest of Abdul Rahman Bukhatir, Founder of the Cricketers’ Benevolent Fund Series (CBFS), Sharjah became the home ground for the Afghanistan cricket team for One Day International and first class matches.In 2016, Afghanistan changed their home ground to Greater Noida Sports Complex Ground in Noida, India. The Multan Sultans and the Quetta Gladiators used the Sharjah Cricket Stadium for most of their home games in the most recent PSL season.
The stadium also hosted the inaugural edition of the T10 cricket league, which is a 90-minute cricket league from December 14-17, 2017, featuring several international cricket players.
The stadium also hosted the final of the 2018 Blind Cricket World Cup featuring India and Pakistan with India defeating Pakistan by two wickets to secure the Blind Cricket World Cup title.
Location: Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
Owner: Sharjah Cricket Association
Dubai International Stadium, Dubai
The Dubai International Stadium, formerly known as the Dubai Sports City Cricket Stadium, is a multi-purpose stadium in Dubai. In little over a decade, the stadium boasts a record of hosting maximum of T20 matches in a single venue. It has a capacity of 25,000 spectators but is expandable to 30,000 spectators. It is a part of the Dubai Sports City in Dubai.
The architect of this project was the Canadian architect Awsam Matloob. The first One-day International played here was between Australia and Pakistan on April 22, 2009, which was won by Pakistan. The stadium’s first player to take a five-wicket haul was Shahid Afridi with 6/38, which was his career best figures at the time. The top score at this stadium is 302* is held by Azhar Ali against West Indies in 2016.
Owner: Dubai Properties
Architect: Awsam Matloob
Operator: Dubai Sports City
Emirates Road End
Dubai Sports City End
The stadium’s unique feature is the special system of floodlights named ‘Ring of Fire’. The 350 floodlights are fixed around the circumference of its round roof, thereby minimizing the shadows of objects in the ground and having no light towers.
Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi
The stadium cost $23 million to build and was opened in May 2004 with its inaugural first class match being an Intercontinental Cup fixture between Scotland and Kenya in November of that year. The stadium has a large stand at either end with the areas square of the wicket offering grass banks for additional seating.
In 2006, the back-to-back ODIs between arch rivals India and Pakistan still remains one of the high points in the life of the stadium. The venue, incidentally, hosted 81 ICC-approved matches in the 2020-21 - the highest number of matches at any cricketing venue in a Covid-19 affected year. They included matches of IPL, PSL, Abu Dhabi T10 as well as two Test matches and ODIs between Ireland and Afghanistan.
Timeline: A patch of green in the desert to a cricket hub
1981: A Sunil Gavaskar XI played the Javed Miandad XI on a patch of grass in front of over 8,000 fans at the new Sharjah Cricket Stadium. The fixture was the earliest template for matches involving some of the stars of the game from across the world.
1984: The first official One-day International was played at Sharjah with Sri Lanka beating Pakistan by five wickets. Now more than 37 years later, the ground holds the world record for hosting the most number of ODIs.
1989: The Emirates Cricket Board was formed and joined the ICC as an Affiliate member.
1994: A national cricket team, led by Sultan Zarawani, competed at the ICC Trophy in Kenya. The UAE beat the home team in the final to celebrate qualifying for the World Cup for the first time.
1996: A debut appearance at a World Cup brought its share of challenges for the national team as it was exposed against the top sides in the sport for the first time. However, they did gain their first ODI victory. Saleem Raza hit six sixes in an innings of 84 as they beat the Netherlands by seven wickets in Lahore.
2005: It was a landmark year as the ICC, world governing body of the game, closed their office at the Nursery End at Lord’s and moved to Dubai. They have initially moved to a temporary office in Al Thuraya Tower in Media City, before moving inside the Dubai Sports City four years later.
2006: General Pervez Musharraf, in his capacity as the Pakistan president, was in attendance as the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi was inaugurated. The new ground, with its state-of-the art facilities, played host to a two-match ODI series between India and Pakistan.
2009: The UAE became a ‘home’ for Pakistan as international teams refused to tour after a terror attack on the Sri Lankan team bus - and they status continued for the next 10 years.
2013: The UAE national team qualified for the World Twenty20 for the first time as they made the cut from a 16-team competition played on the home soil in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. It set up the busiest year in international cricket for the UAE.
2014: The UAE scaled another peak before playing the T20 World Cup, the team under captain Khurram Khan qualified for the 50-over World Cup at a competition in New Zealand.
It was a significant year for the UAE as hosts as well as they staged the Under-19 World Cup, followed by a leg of the IPL for the first time. The first 20 games of the tournament were shifted to the UAE as the dates were clashing with the Parliamentary elections in India - and all matches were played in front of packed stadiums.
2015: The UAE national team, under the captaincy of Mohammed Tauqir, played at their second 50-over World Cup after a gap of 19 years. The UAE lost all of their matches in Australia and New Zealand.
2016: The Pakistan Super League was launched in Dubai with fanfare but five years down the line, it has returned to the homeland.
2017: The UAE had its own franchise league for the first time when the T10 League was launched in Sharjah in December. The 10-over competition was sanctioned by the ECB and ICC, but financed by the franchise owners. The competition has eventually moved to Abu Dhabi after two seasons in Sharjah.
2018: The multi-nation Asia Cup was played across Abu Dhabi and Dubai, while India and Pakistan faced off twice in front of packed stadiums at Dubai International Stadium. India beat Bangladesh by a wafer-thin margin in the final. UAE, as the host country, could not feature as they were beaten by Hong Kong in the final of the qualifying tournament in Malaysia.
2020: It was the year when the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, and the IPL was suspended for months. It was eventually shifted outside India amid elaborate bio-security measures in the UAE and the competition was deemed an unqualified success.
2021: The 50th anniversary of the formation of the UAE, alongwith the year of Expo 2020, could be their busiest year as hosts. While Abu Dhabi has already hosted the remaining leg of Pakistan Super League in June, the UAE are lined up to host the remaining part of IPL 2021 and finally the T20 World Cup in October-November.