The stunted attempts of the Emirates Cricket Board to attract UAE nationals to the sport will be boosted this week when Sharjah plays host to the first official Gulf Cup.
Landmark tournament exclusively for Arab nationals only
DUBAI // The stunted attempts of the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) to attract UAE nationals to the sport will be boosted this week when Sharjah plays host to the first official Gulf Cup exclusively for Arab nationals.
The concept for the Twenty20 (T20) competition is not a new one. The UAE finished as runners-up to Oman in a similar four-team tournament, which also involved Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, in December 2009.
However, the ECB did not sanction that event, which was staged with funds raised privately at the grounds owned by Dubai Aluminium.
This time, though, they have granted both the use of the Sharjah Cricket Stadium for free, and provided logistical help for each of the visiting teams at late notice.
The tournament, which starts on Thursday, fits neatly with the aim of Dilawar Mani, the ECB chief executive, who has stated that he hopes to see a fully Emirati national team in the future.
Promoting the game among Arab nationals has proved difficult in the past, with only a handful of Emiratis having played for the full UAE team to date.
International cricket rules deem that a player can represent an adopted country after four years of residency, and the UAE team has traditionally borrowed mainly from the large subcontinent expatriate community.
"We are working with the board to help promote the game," said Alawi Shukri, the UAE national team player and tournament organiser.
"This is the start of something. If we don't take the steps forward now, it will never happen.
"It doesn't take a genius to see we have been here for 30 years and we have never come up with anything like this.
"We need the public. This tournament is just an initiative. After the tournament, then the work really starts.
"After the tournament we do not expect to get 500 or 1,000 new people to come to the grounds and play the game.
"But this is an initiation, a chance for nationals to see there is a team playing, and they could join. It is very good that the board have done this."
The home side will be considerably stronger than when they lost in the final to Oman in 2009, as they have been able to call on experienced Emirati cricketers such as Mohammed Tauqir, Fahad al Hashmi and Salman Farooq.
"We will keep trying to create healthy opportunities for Arab nationals to hone their competitive edge," said Mazhar Khan, the ECB administrator. "The Gulf Cup is a step in the right direction."