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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

Keep on bowling: the rise of the Abu Dhabi Gentlemen’s Cricket Club

We visit the capital club and get bowled over by its solid sense of fun that has brought together a diversity of nationalities in the capital

Members of the Abu Dhabi Gentlemen’s Cricket Club in their yellow-and-maroon kit at the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Gentlemen’s Cricket Club
Members of the Abu Dhabi Gentlemen’s Cricket Club in their yellow-and-maroon kit at the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Gentlemen’s Cricket Club

If you head to the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi on a Wednesday evening, you will be greeted by a sea of yellow-and-maroon shirts – and a chorus of accents from around the world.

This is where, throughout the winter, the Abu Dhabi Gentlemen’s Cricket Club holds its weekly training sessions before Saturday matches, and the place is always abuzz with activity – some people steaming (or perhaps not quite steaming) in to bowl; others batting or putting on their pads in preparation; more still lining up for slip-catching drills.

The sheer number of people who turn up each Wednesday is testament to how quickly this amateur cricket club has grown since it was founded in 2014 by David Willis, elder brother of famed England fast bowler Bob Willis.

David believed that there was an appetite for a more relaxed cricketing environment in the capital – there is a longer history of social cricket in Dubai, going back to 1969 when the Darjeeling Cricket Club was founded – and he has been proved emphatically right. Where once the ADGCC only had a dozen or so players, this year there are more than 60 members and 50 games of cricket on the fixture list.

The success of the club is built on a simple mantra: cricket for all. “Provided you play within the spirit of the game, you’ll be welcomed by the Gents,” says ADGCC chairman Steven Blandford. “We’ve got people from, among others, Australia, India, Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe. There are PE teachers playing alongside chief executives of major companies – that, for me, epitomises the UAE.

“Here you have so many nationalities and professions all brought together – and I know this sounds cheesy – through the love of cricket.”

The emphasis, then, is firmly on enjoyment, and all abilities are encouraged to turn up. The club logo – a camel wearing a top hat and bow tie with a cricket ball as a monocle – captures this sense of fun. “The ADGCC fulfils the requirements of a social team,” Blandford says. “It’s just about the joy of playing cricket.”

Which is not to say things aren’t competitive. Originally, there was just one team, which Blandford describes as “very, very social”, but as the club has continued to grow, it has attracted a higher and higher class of cricketer. To accommodate these players, a second team was created last year, which this season, for the first time, will compete in the Dubai Super League, an amateur cricket competition now in its sixth year.

“We made the decision as a club that we wanted to provide the highest possible standard for our members,” Blandford says. “But at the same time, it was important to ensure that there were enough social fixtures to allow everyone to play.”

One of the great attractions of turning out for the ADGCC is the opportunity to play matches at some of the most impressive grounds in the UAE. After an agreement was signed this year with the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, the majority of ADGCC home games will be played on the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium nursery grounds, but a number of fixtures will also be held at the idyllic Emirates Palace ground.

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With the sea on one side and a view of Abu Dhabi on the other, the Emirates Palace ground was once described by legendary English cricket commentator Henry Blofeld as “the most beautiful countrified cricket ground you’ve ever seen”. Not a bad place to get a duck.

Speaking to Blandford, it’s that word “social” that comes up time and time again, though. Members take part in club golf days, and a healthy bar tab is racked up after training sessions and matches. The ADGCC is clearly as much about the people you meet as the cricket you play.

“Numerous times you’ll be out and about and see guys that, if it wasn’t for the cricket, would never be your friends,” Blandford says. “It’s so crucial in Abu Dhabi’s opulent, transient environment to have a bit of normality. A sports team such as the Abu Dhabi Gentlemen’s Cricket Club is fantastic because it keeps everyone grounded. All we want is a game of cricket and a drink afterwards.”

To find out more about Abu Dhabi Gentlemen’s Cricket Club, visit www.adgcc.org