x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

New Dubai ground is off to a flying start

Former Test stars are on the losing side as Fly Emirates win the first of two one-day games as Dubai finally has place to play cricket.

Geraint Jones bats for the Lord's Taverners against  Fly Emirates at Dubai's new cricket ground.
Geraint Jones bats for the Lord's Taverners against Fly Emirates at Dubai's new cricket ground.

DUBAI // The paint on the dressing room walls was still wet. The pavilion's cantilever roof was missing a few essential panels. And the groundsman could have done without the storms that had hit the region two nights earlier. But at 10.30am on Friday, as Geraint Jones, an Ashes winner with England in 2005, faced the first ball at The Sevens cricket ground, a sport which had been enduring a lull in Dubai had begun its revival.

"In our hearts, this is something we have wanted for a very long time," said Nigel Fernandes, whose Fly Emirates team won the opening match, against a Lord's Taverners charity XI. Fernandes, who has represented the UAE sporadically in recent years, personifies the sort of travails cricketers in the city have had to endure since Dubai Cricket Council's grounds were closed in 2006. He lives in Al Quoz in Dubai, and would think nothing of travelling to play at Al Dhaid, Sharjah or Abu Dhabi to get his cricket fix.

"When it comes to cricket, we know we have to go where the facilities are, we know the game won't come to us," he said. "Now it has happened, I think it is showing in our game how happy we are. We are on the winning path, I hope, and it is really great that Emirates have done this." The main oval, which will be in use again today when the Taverners attempt to halve their two-match series against the Emirates team, will eventually be joined by an adjacent grass field, and four other sand grounds, all available for public hire.

"These grounds are for the community," said Maurice Flanagan, the executive vice-chairman of Emirates. The project was his idea, and he was a picture of contentment as he watched his company colleagues overcome a side including the likes of Jones, the former Austrlia opening batsman Michael Bevan, and the ex-England pace bowlers Andy Caddick and Devon Malcolm. "I have particularly enjoyed the performance against such distinguished players, most of whom were recently active," he said.

"Andy Caddick only finished playing last season, and Devon Malcolm has kept horrendously fit. There is not an ounce of fat on that huge, muscular body so it must be terrifying having him running in to bowl against you." Especially on a pitch which was anything but predictable. That the Taverners eventually reached a total of 107 was a minor triumph. Yet, in charitable fashion, the Taverners refused to blame the facilities for their eventual five wicket loss. "I feel sorry for the groundsman having to prepare a pitch for these games with the torrential rain there was last week," said the touring side's non-playing captain, Mike Gatting, another former England Test star. The Taverners will get the chance to avenge their opening defeat at the Sevens from 1pm today.

pradley@thenational.ae