ABU DHABI // Cricket has been played in Abu Dhabi since the early 1970s, but junior cricket was almost non-existent until the Abu Dhabi Cricket Council (ADCC) founded the MCC-Zayed Cricket Academy in December 2005.
"Cricket is the most popular sport, particularly among the pupils from the subcontinent, but there were no competitions for the schools until the ADCC tournament in 2009/10," said SB Dey, the physical education teacher and cricket coach at Abu Dhabi Indian School (ADIS).
"Since then, the interest among the pupils has risen sharply and everyone is now looking forward to the competitions. The ADCC has made the right moves to start school cricket in Abu Dhabi.
"They have provided everything free of charge, from the playing kits, grounds and the match officials. They have even extended free training facilities in their academy. In my opinion there is no better way to reach the grassroots than what they have done."
ADIS reached all three finals last season, winning the open age group and the Under 16 competition, and coming second to Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Arab Pakistan School at Under 14 level.
Qazi Ayub, the tournament director and head coach of the academy, said schools have been offered coaching, as well as the use of the academy grounds and training facilities.
"A lot of schools have availed this facility and now the news of school cricket has spread" around the emirate, Ayub said, noting that schools in places as distant as Ruwais and Madinat Zayed are part of the competition.
"We had players coming out of the system but no competitions," Ayub said. "Without competitions the game would have not taken as it has, going by the response of the schools."
The initiative to start inter-school events came from Dilawar Mani, the chief executive of the Emirates Cricket Board.
This year's tournament will also serve as a trial for the UAE team's selection for the Elite Cup of Asia, the U16 tournament in May and the U19 version in June-July, both to be held in Malaysia.
Steven Rajesh, the PE teacher from Sherwood school, said demand for cricket is now so great that the school is planning to employ a full-time cricket coach.