ABU DHABI // What began as a pre-season tour for a single school from the United Kingdom has become an international tournament, and its organiser hopes to turn the series into an unofficial international championship.
The Emirates Airline Schools ARCH (Arabian Challenge) trophy for Under 19s and Under 16s has been played this week in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, giving young cricketers a platform for sharpening their skills and gaining experience.
The eighth staging of the competition has drawn eight teams in both age groups from the UK and South Africa as well as local school and academy teams.
The U19 competition concluded on Friday, with the MCC-Zayed Cricket Academy beating Dubai College in the final. The U16 version kicked off on Sunday.
The event is the brainchild of Matthew Jackson, the managing director of sportarabia.
"It all began as an accident when I came down with my son, Callum, on a business trip," Jackson.
"He was a keen cricketer and when he saw how great the facilities were here, I organised a tour for his club, Eastbourne, in 2006.
"At that time, there were only two turf wickets, the Zayed Cricket Stadium [in Abu Dhabi] and Sharjah.
"He came with his Under 11 club side and it was the hospitality shown at the Zayed stadium that really spurred me, in that this is a really good place to play cricket. I don't think anyone was bringing in cricket teams at that time."
Callum, 18, is a wicketkeeper-batsman and an England U19 player. He will turn professional for Sussex after completing his university degree.
Jackson is turning what was a hobby into a full-time business and wants to expand the tournament. "The great thing about the UAE is not only the climate, but the facilities, which are world-class," he said. "It also geographically well-placed for the teams from the southern and northern hemisphere to travel to.
"The schools season in England, unlike the UAE, is very short, around two months. And coming out here for around 10 days, they can add four or five matches.
"That's how it started, but now it has spread with schools from South Africa, this year, New Zealand, previously, taking part along with some of the local teams.
"At some point, we may plan to have a tournament in October, so the teams from the southern hemisphere can use it as a pre-season preparation and then extend it to the northern hemisphere teams in March."
With improved facilities in Abu Dhabi - there are two new turf wickets in place along with the main stadium - Jackson says the tournament will be played exclusively in the capital city from now on.
"We also have the option to use the Emirates Palace grounds," he said. "The ultimate aim would be to have 16 teams in this tournament and helping youngsters from across the world to play each other and learn how cricket is played in different parts of the world."
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