x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

All-Emirati team will be dream come true

Batsman Alawi Shukri can hardly put into words his excitement at the prospect of lining up as one of 11 Emirati players representing his homeland.

DUBAI // Alawi Shukri, the young batsman who first learned about cricket from his family's Sri Lankan au pair, can hardly put into words his excitement at the prospect of lining up as one of 11 Emirati players representing his homeland. "Stepping on to the ground with 11 nationals, I could not explain how much that would mean to us," said Shukri, who is helping to assemble the fully Emirati team to represent the UAE in next year's Asian Games. "It will be my best cricket moment by far."

The UAE has a fair claim to being regarded as the most successful cricket nation in Asia outside of the Test elite - India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh. However, much of the on-field success in the past has been achieved by players who have lived in the country for as little as four years. ICC rules mean that a player can represent a country after living there for four years, although the regulations also stipulate that the vast majority of a side must be residents for at least seven years.

The UAE national team have traditionally relied mainly on ready-made first-class players from the subcontinent who have moved here to work. But for the Asian Games, all the UAE players must be passport-holders, which rules out the expats who have dominated cricket since it was first played here by Commonwealth troops stationed in what was then the Trucial States during World War II. When the highly competitive domestic leagues were first established in Sharjah in the 1970s, companies recruited players from abroad to represent their sides.

The problem is not exclusive to cricket. Rugby is an even more expat-oriented sport, with International Rugby Board rules allowing any three-year resident to represent an adopted country. As such, the Arabian Gulf rugby team has rarely included any Arab players. However, rugby bosses have now started to see their development programme bear fruit in recent years, and the Gulf team had their first Arab captain this year, the Omani Taif al Delamie.

When the UAE made their sole appearance at a cricket World Cup, on the subcontinent in 1996, there were two Emiratis in the squad, Saeed al Saffar and the captain, Sultan Zarawani. Few of their countrymen were inspired to follow, and the appearance of Emiratis on a cricket field remains a rarity. Salman Farooq, one of the most solidly established Emirati players, believes the likes of al Saffar and Zarawani could still have a role to play in helping develop the game.

"If the older Emiratis can get involved, it will really help," said Farooq. "We have lots of Emiratis who have played international cricket. "To play international cricket, you don't have to be supernatural. These international cricketers are people who have played better cricket than we have because they have had more exposure. "It is all about creating awareness. These boys should know that there is a sport called cricket that exists.

"Most of the boys don't know that. The don't know the difference between baseball and cricket." pradley@thenational.ae