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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Give indoor cricket a chance when the World Cup comes to the UAE this year

It will be the first time the competition will have been staged either in the Middle East, or outside any of cricket’s recognised leading nations.

Some of the terminology feels like it has been borrowed from rugby, or maybe even gridiron.

There is an “exclusion zone”, there are rules related to “interference”, and there is even allowance for blood injury replacements.

“A player suffering a blood-related injury must leave the court for further treatment unless the bleeding can be contained within a maximum of two minutes,” the laws read.

“The injured player and medical staff in attendance should ensure that no blood contaminates the court, or its fittings or fixtures.”

And no chewing gum permitted, either. It is a nightmare to get it off those fittings and fixtures, after all.

Indoor cricket could not be much further removed from the genteel lethargy of the village green, where the more recognised outdoor version of the game has its roots.

Even at its most sedate, it feels like Twenty20 stuck on fast-forward.

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Zip 10 players inside a small, fenced-off court, then get them to pelt balls at each other, with just a bat to defend themselves, while the fielding pack zero in. And the ball is always live. No breaks permitted.

At its most frenzied, it feels a bit like a cricketing royal rumble. Like when the UAE last week started its trials for the squad that will represent the country on home soil at the Indoor Cricket World Cup in September.

Andy Russell, the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) coach who is overseeing the preparations for that competition, joined in with the trialists to make up the numbers.

Soon after the start of proceedings, he had fallen in a heap after being hit near the throat while fielding close in on the leg-side.

Given Russell is part of the selection panel for the World Cup, it might not have been the savviest tactic by the batsman to take him out.

“There is a safety issue and you need to be alert in the field, but the ball is not as hard [4 ounces, as opposed to the 5 and a half ounce leather outdoor cricket ball], and we are used to it,” says Sujeewa Prasad, an indoor cricket player from Sri Lanka.

Prasad’s side, which is made up of a combination of his friends plus colleagues from the shipping company where he works, play regularly in the leagues organised at Insportz, Dubai.

The sports centre, inside a warehouse building on the edge of Al Quoz industrial area that is nearest to Sheikh Zayed Road, was built in 1997 specifically to house indoor cricket.

“At that stage there was nothing, not even the concept of indoor cricket here,” says Prameela Nadkarni, the World Indoor Cricket Federation’s representative in the UAE, who is based at Insportz.

“It did take us a while to make people understand that cricket is not all about outdoor, and there is a version of the game being played indoor as well.

“Of course, the weather conditions here attracted the idea even more. Ours was built as an air-conditioned facility to develop indoor cricket.”

Insportz might have been built specifically for the game, but it has been amended to allow football, volleyball and basketball to be played in the courts. There is even a two-lane, 10-pin bowling alley there now.

The fact it is rooted in indoor cricket, though, was recognised with the ultimate accolade when it was awarded the rights to stage this year's World Cup.

It will be the first time the competition will have been staged either in the Middle East, or outside any of cricket’s recognised leading nations.

The facilities have been upgraded especially for the event – which cost “plenty” of dirhams, according to Nadkarni – but footballers, volleyball players and others are still welcome to hire the courts in the meantime.

“To secure an international event for the very best indoor cricketers is a major coup,” Zayed Abbas, the ECB board member, said when the decision was announced.

Indoor cricket looks like a lot of fun

The nuances of the indoor game take some getting used to. Runs are scored dependent on where the ball hits the tension netting at the side and back of the court, with whatever the batsmen actually run added on top of that.

Bowlers deliver the ball from the conventional 22 yards, but for batsmen to make their ground, they only have to run around half the distance as outdoors. Which is fair enough, given the fact the small space in which the game is played means the ball does not run very far away.

Matches of 16-overs per eight-a-side team take one and a half hours, so over-rates are around twice as quick as in conventional outdoor games.

Players bat in pairs of four overs each, and are deducted five runs each time they are out.

The “exclusion zone” refers to a three-metre area around the striker in which the fielders cannot enter. “Interference” (basically, blocking the batsmen’s path) is punishable by a five-run penalty.

That might sound like an unnecessary ruling, but with eight fielders plus two batsmen basically in a confined cage, space is at a premium and collisions can happen.

“This is more like how you play badminton – fast, quick, and everyone is involved all the time,” Sujeewa says.

“Everyone has to be an all-rounder. You can’t just come here and sit, you have to play. It is to be enjoyed.

“We are looking forward to seeing the World Cup matches here. I have friends trying to make the squad.

"Hopefully they will get the chance to play some matches. And we know most of the guys from playing in the leagues.”

Insportz has a database of 500 teams, with around 60 of them actively participating in their weekly leagues.

“In the good old days, there was a concept that corporations would give their staff parties in hotels, where there was lunch or dinner,” Nadkarni said.

“Then the concept changed and they started making it a sports event. It became a team-building event for companies, where they said, ‘You are not being managed here, you are a team’.

“Now there are many more indoor centres that have sprouted, but we were fortunate that we were selected to host the World Cup for the first time in the Middle East, and the first time outside any of the major cricket nations.”

Indoor cricket in a nutshell

Indoor Cricket World Cup – Sep 16-20, Insportz, Dubai

16 Indoor cricket matches are 16 overs per side

8 There are eight players per team

There have been nine Indoor Cricket World Cups for men. Australia have won every one.

5 Five runs are deducted from the score when a wickets falls

Batsmen bat in pairs, facing four overs per partnership

Scoring In indoor cricket, runs are scored by way of both physical and bonus runs. Physical runs are scored by both batsmen completing a run from one crease to the other. Bonus runs are scored when the ball hits a net in different zones, but only when at least one physical run is score.

Zones

A Front net, behind the striker and wicketkeeper: 0 runs

B Side nets, between the striker and halfway down the pitch: 1 run

Side nets between halfway and the bowlers end: 2 runs

Back net: 4 runs on the bounce, 6 runs on the full

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