The country is finally going to provide a platform for young cricketers to display their talents with the launch of competitions for Under 14 and Under 16 teams. To begin with, they will be staged at schools in Abu Dhabi and then, with the backing of Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Higher Education and the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) chairman, across all emirates.
The ECB chief executive Dilawar Mani admits there is a need to structure all competitions if they are to unearth some real talent and give young players the chance to test themselves competitively. "School cricket was a long-felt need but for some reason or another, it never got started in Abu Dhabi," he says. "Now is the time to get it going. "We have drawn up a plan and will circulate information to the schools to fix dates for the Under 14 and 16 tournaments. We are not going to stop at that; the winners or the top two or three teams will qualify to play in an inter-emirate competition.
"Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak has a strong focus on the development of school cricket. The goal is to ensure that the UAE can grow the youth talent to compete at international levels. "He also has an extremely keen interest in the operation of the ECB and he wants the affairs to be managed with high standards of corporate governance. He wants more unification of cricket formats and playing conditions across the country."
Mani says the Zayed Cricket Academy will also play an important role. The academy boasts more than 600 registered students and three of them - Syed Ammar Abdi, Zubin Ghyara and Shaib Nasir - have gone on to represent the UAE in various age groups. "There is a greater demand from people to play cricket since the academy was established. Now inter-school cricket is the best way for the sport to move forward," added Mani.
"There are some fine players in the academy and they are ready to help develop the school tournaments. Some of them are well exposed enough, from the opportunities they have got through the academy, to even play against visiting schools from the UK and South Africa if that happens." Cricket started to be played in the capital in a more organised format when the Abu Dhabi Cricket Council was established in 1989. However, the sport was only played among adults as a recreation sport. A few private companies then recruited first-class cricketers from the subcontinent for the games to become more competitive.
However, the game at the grassroots level remained ignored. The ECB hope all that will change with the new initiative as the schools would include cricket as part of their extra-curricular activities. Mani's focus will be on evolving strategies to develop the sport at all levels, particularly in introducing the game to Emiratis, promoting women's cricket and unifying the governance across all regional councils.
"These are some of key issues we need to address," added Mani. "There is no dearth in the interest and the game's popularity. But we need to work harder to improve the quality of the players and attract the Emiratis, which we haven't been able to do." firstname.lastname@example.org