Andrew Flintoff's Lancashire and an Emirates side of sub-continental stars will be seen in action.
English counties head to the UAE
DUBAI // Andrew Flintoff's Lancashire and Champions League-bound Middlesex will head to the UAE next March to compete in a new, expanded Arabian Cricket Challenge. Yorkshire, Essex, Sussex and Surrey will also do battle, along with the UAE national team and an Emirates All-Star XI in the eight-team ProArch Trophy.
It will be the third edition of the tournament, and will take place in Sharjah and Abu Dhabi between March 17 and March 25 2009. The 50-over event has grown from two teams in 2006 - Essex and Sussex - and its success has been so great that the organisers were forced to turn away two additional counties this year. "As cricket is developing here at a rapid pace, we are hoping to grow and bring in more teams from other parts of the world," said Arabian Cricket chief executive, Matthew Jackson. "We are only restricted by the number of stadiums, and practice facilities."
The event has quickly become a feature of the build-up to the English county season. The 2008 edition generated much interested as it marked a key stage in the England all-rounder Flintoff's rehabilitation from an ankle injury. Middlesex, who are currently in Antigua preparing for the Stanford Super Series, have one of England's finest one-day players, Owais Shah, in their ranks, as well as the India left arm spinner Murali Kartik.
The Emirates All-Star XI, the third new addition to the competition, along with Surrey and Middlesex, is likely to include a variety of sub-continental cricket stars among their number. This year's tournament proved highly beneficial for most of the five counties who took part. Sussex went on to win the English 40-over league. Essex were the 50-over knock-out trophy champions, and also reached the Twenty20 Cup finals day.
Somerset and Yorkshire, who won the 2008 ProArch Trophy, also had their best seasons in county cricket for some time. "It worked as a pre-season tournament, because all the counties saw the benefit of it," added Jackson. "As a result, we had to turn counties away this year. "There were two extra counties who we couldn't accommodate, purely on the basis that we don't have quite enough practise facilities. We want to make sure we give a quality pre-season tournament, rather than trying to squeeze everyone in.
"The important thing is on the cricket front, and it works really well from that point of view." The timing of next year's tournament could prove crucial to the UAE's bid to qualify for the 2011 World Cup on the sub-continent. The ProArch Trophy will provide Khurram Khan's side with their final match practise before they head to South Africa for April's ICC World Cup qualifier. "We are really pleased that the UAE national team are involved again," said Jackson.
"This will be a perfect warm-up for them ahead of the qualifier. The opposition they face here will be tougher than the associate nations, and then they will head straight down to South Africa." firstname.lastname@example.org