DUBAI //When Ben Stokes and Scott Borthwick made their international debuts for England against India this year, they probably did not realise they had such a sizeable cheer squad in the UAE.
As the latest products off the assembly line at Durham, the leading county side, their progress has been closely monitored by the inductees of the Young Talents Cricket Academy (YTCA).
The county have been regular visitors to these shores, thanks to their association with the Dubai and Sharjah based academy.
Geoff Cook, the coach who has overseen two county championship wins with Durham in the past three seasons, has been back this week for his fifth visit to the YTCA.
The former England batsman has spent nine days here fine tuning the game of the academy's highly regarded young cricketers.
"He comes here at the right time, a few weeks before the Gulf Cup," Sunil Israni, the director of YTCA, said. "That gives him a chance to prepare our teams for the tournament."
The academy expects around 2,000 junior cricketers to participate in January's Gulf Cup. The competition, which started in 2003 as a six-team tournament, is likely to involve sides from Bahrain, Bangalore, the Durham Under 16 county side, as well as across the emirates.
Stokes played at the 2005 Gulf Cup in Sharjah, while Borthwick played in the same Durham touring side, and nearly seven years later, each of them have debuted for England.
"When we see guys like Stokes and Borthwick playing for England, it makes us really pleased as we played against them," Manish Dhakan, an all-rounder who graduated from the academy and now helps run it, said. "It is also a confidence boost for our players to realise they have played against international players."
The knowledge exchange has had tangible benefits for local players. Rameez Shahzad, the UAE all-rounder, has played as an overseas professional in the north east of the UK for the past two summers, while studying at university in Durham.
Shahzad Altaf, the former UAE bowler and founder of YTCA, is grateful that his academicians get the benefit from their strong bond with the county.
"It is fantastic that the boys can tap in to Geoff's expertise and they have really made the most of it," Altaf said.