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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Buoyed by T20 series success, Abu Dhabi Cricket ready for some PSL action

With around 33,000 in attendance and plenty of entertainment around games between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Zayed Cricket Stadium wants to host Pakistan Super League games

The Pakistan and Sri Lanka teams in action during one of their two Twenty20 matches at Zayed Cricket Stadium this month. Abu Dhabi Cricket
The Pakistan and Sri Lanka teams in action during one of their two Twenty20 matches at Zayed Cricket Stadium this month. Abu Dhabi Cricket

Abu Dhabi Cricket hopes to be included in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) schedule for the first time, following the success of their Twenty20 double-header at the weekend.

An overall total of around 33,000 fans attended the matches between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the capital in cricket’s abridged format on Thursday and Friday night.

Matt Boucher, the acting chief executive of Abu Dhabi Cricket, believes Zayed Cricket Stadium is a “sleeping giant”, and hopes it has proved its credentials to the Pakistan Cricket Board.

“We are pleased with how [the T20 series] went, and, having not hosted the Pakistan Super League this year, we are hopeful the Pakistan Cricket Board believes in us, and can see us as a future venue,” Boucher said.

Mumbai Indians fans cheer their team against the Kolkata Knight Riders during the opening Indian Premier League match at Zayed Cricket Stadium in April 2014. Ravindranath K / The National
Mumbai Indians fans cheer their team against the Kolkata Knight Riders during the opening Indian Premier League match at Zayed Cricket Stadium in April 2014. Ravindranath K / The National

Although the Indian Premier League (IPL) had matches in Abu Dhabi when it was moved to the UAE in 2014, the capital has been light on notable fixtures in the game’s most popular format.

Before the weekend, Abu Dhabi had staged 28 T20 internationals, but only five of those were major matches, meaning ticketed games involving full-member countries.

Dubai, by contrast, has staged 43 - the most by any ground in the world – 21 of which have involved Pakistan. Sharjah has had just 12, but has been a venue for both the PSL and IPL.

The first two seasons of PSL only involved matches in Dubai and Sharjah, with this year’s final played in Lahore.

“The trend for cricket currently is towards the short form of the game,” Boucher said.

“We haven’t hosted many T20s in the past, and we have made a concerted effort this year to focus in on those games, and to give Abu Dhabi something it hasn’t had before, to give the fan base something new.”

The atmosphere at the matches between Pakistan and Sri Lanka certainly felt new.

Unlike at matches in the past, where what happens inside the boundary rope is the beginning and end of the show, there was peripheral entertainment. It felt like an event.

There were the standard T20 staples of pyrotechnics, light shows, and a DJ. Not everybody in the ground will have been an avid fan of Despacito, or the rest of the playlist, but the event managers had a good idea of their audience.

Younis Khan has some fun with fans at Zayed Cricket Stadium.
Younis Khan has some fun with fans at Zayed Cricket Stadium.

At the break between innings, Raheem Shah, the Pakistani pop star, was wheeled around the boundary in the back of a utility truck, serenading delighted spectators, many of whom danced in the aisles.

Younis Khan, Pakistan’s leading Test run scorer, participated in community promotional activities in the city on the nights, as well as in the days leading up to them.

Other initiatives will be lasting, too. The grass banks where spectators sit square of the wicket had been scraped and reconfigured – perhaps prematurely, seeing as it left supporters with sand rather than grass to sit on – with the fans in mind.

Halving the gradient of the banks will make for two things. First, a more comfortable seat with a better view of the game. And second, it increases the capacity by as much as 4,000.

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The organisers clearly cared about their public. The UAE’s two newest cricket stadiums – Abu Dhabi and Dubai – suffer from the fact they are not within an easy walk of anywhere, unlike Sharjah.

When one supporter made the journey to Zayed Cricket Stadium on the eve of the first T20 to get a ticket, he arrived at 7am having walked 90 minutes to get there. He made it there before the ticket booth was open.

The ground administrators were so impressed by his commitment, they sent him home with a handful of tickets, as well as his taxi fare.

Pakistan pop star Raheem Shah, left, with Younis Khan at Zayed Cricket Stadium.
Pakistan pop star Raheem Shah, left, with Younis Khan at Zayed Cricket Stadium.

“We got in Raheem Shah purposefully for that Pakistan audience, so they are getting a little bit more than just cricket,” Boucher said.

“You will see from all of our [Abu Dhabi Sports Council] events that there is just a little bit more everywhere we go.

“At the HSBC [golf] there are enormous villages, at the Club World Cup huge fan zones. We want to provide that little bit extra.”

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