ABU DHABI // Next year promises to be another landmark one for Zayed Cricket Stadium.
Just weeks after the venue was the site of a Test match for the first time, when Pakistan hosted South Africa, plans to establish it as an international venue are gathering pace.
Work on two of the six grounds close to the main stadium is under way and will result in the sand and cement pitches being replaced by turf. Once the development is finished, the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) will tender bids to host the Under 19 World Cup as well as the 2012 Universities World Cup. The foundations for one of the two grounds around the main stadium are nearing completion and, according to Dilawar Mani, the chief executive officer of the ECB, both grounds are set to be ready in time for next season.
Mani believes the new facilities will elevate the game to a new level in Abu Dhabi and stimulate the game at its grass roots.
Schools cricket in the capital was introduced last year and played at two age groups, Under 14 and 16. They have added an open-age group in the second staging of the tournament that started in November.
"There is no better way to develop the game than taking it to the schools," Mani said.
"The facilities are coming up and the youngsters can enjoy playing on turf wickets from which they can develop their skill levels.
"After the recent road works, the grounds are now almost 1.3 metres below the road level and the filling of one area is nearing completion. The pavilion will come in-between and be the central spot for both grounds.
"These facilities will also be used for domestic and international matches. It also provides Abu Dhabi with an opportunity to stage international events, both sanctioned and conducted by the International Cricket and the Asian Cricket councils.
"It is one of the major developments to take place after the construction of the Zayed Stadium in 2003 as an international venue."
Mani said that the ICC may consider staging the 2014 U19 World Cup here, based on the improvements to the grounds.
He added that the ECB have been in touch with the Marylebone Cricket Club and have a memorandum of understanding signed with the MCC, who are behind the staging of the 2012 Universities World Cup.
The main ground has already hosted one-day internationals and is now the curtain-raiser for the English domestic season. Also, many English county teams use Abu Dhabi as their post-season training camp.
"There are also plans to develop the area as Abu Dhabi's cricket city," Mani said.
"The stadium itself is now an established international venue. The academy adjoining the stadium caters to the youngsters and the new turf pitches will add to the existing facilities."