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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

New-look facilities at Zayed Cricket Stadium offers a home for the community and international sport

The facilities surrounding the stadium have been given a massive facelift, including two new football pitches that will be used for training by teams during the Fifa Club World Cup

Matt Boucher of Abu Dhabi Cricket promises more fun and games at Zayed Cricket Stadium. Antonie Robertson / The National
Matt Boucher of Abu Dhabi Cricket promises more fun and games at Zayed Cricket Stadium. Antonie Robertson / The National

For a man who has successfully managed multiple international events for both the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority and Abu Dhabi Sports Council over the past decade, the challenge of enhancing the emirate's cricket portfolio was something Matt Boucher was keen to get his teeth in to.

While many headed for their home countries to escape the intense UAE heat over the summer, the Englishman stayed to oversee the upgrading of the existing cricket facilities at Zayed Cricket Stadium, as well as and restructuring the surrounding areas for multi-sport activities.

“Personally it was a fantastic moment because I’m a huge cricket fan,” he said.

The facilities surrounding the stadium have been given a massive facelift, including two new football pitches that will be used for training by teams during the Fifa Club World Cup in December, and 17 turf and eight astro turf nets for cricket. The two Nursery Ovals are installed with new 500-lux LED Musco floodlights that paves the way for night matches and community cricket.

In addition, the venue will be home to touch rugby as well as multi-purpose courts for netball, tennis and basketball.

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“We want to create a community hub for everybody to use the facilities at an affordable price in line with the Sports Council’s mandate,” said Boucher, adding that part of his remit was to expand the game to make it more accessible for the western expat community.

“The cricket academy is brilliant. They have done an excellent job of that but it is very elite, focused on the subcontinent market, which is natural for Abu Dhabi.

“I think there are a lot of western expats out there that haven’t been touched. We all see that as a massive growth area for the academy.”

While making the capital's stadium and its shiny new facilities accessible to the community, Boucher recognises the importance of promoting Zayed Cricket Stadium as a venue for major international events.

He has already shown his considerable skills in the boardroom too, successfully negotiating for the capital to host five games in the upcoming series between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, including the opening Test starting September 28, along with two one-day games (October 16 and 18), and two Twenty20 games back-to-back from October 26.

That is no small feat. The last time Pakistan, who host their "home" series in the Emirates following a boycott after a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in 2009, staged a series here last year the capital's ground was allocated just one Test match and a solitary ODI and T20 by the Pakistan Cricket Board.

Boucher said to host the first Test was a big moment for cricket in Abu Dhabi.

“The teams arrive here first for three days of practices and it will have an enormous amount of media attention,” said Boucher, whose duel-role is acting chief executive of Abu Dhabi Cricket and event manager at the ADSC.

“The two one-day internationals will also have a big impact with the two Twenty20 games over a weekend as a marquee double-header.”

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INDOOR CRICKET WORLD CUP

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Boucher also has an eye on the future tours of Pakistan with the series against South Africa towards the end of next year and New Zealand in the beginning of 2019.

“It’s a relationship which we believe in and we want to focus on,” he said. “And for the game of cricket globally we certainly wish cricket will return to Pakistan, which is an absolute priority.”

As well as hosting Pakistan matches Boucher said the ADSC was focused on staging their own events, too.

“On the one side we have enormous community focus as a multi-sport venue and on the other side we have a massive focus to bring in international events in line with the Sports Council vision,” he said.

“We want to do both. We want to take the PCB very seriously. We are very pleased to host some of their games, and in the long term, we will look on the possibilities to have our own events.”

While some of the world's finest will soon descend upon the capital, Boucher has also been busy implementing a new Super Eights tournament for Division 1 clubs which will kick-start the new domestic season next month.

“We’re off to a fast start and the opening of the fully refurbished Zayed Cricket Academy [on Friday] represents an important milestone on Abu Dhabi Cricket’s new journey,” Boucher said.

“We intend to position Abu Dhabi as a cricketing hub - with both world-class events and a junior programme designed to inspire the next generation of cricketing superstars.”