x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Rivalry evokes memories for UAE coach

The revelry which spilled out of the Oval in south London after England regained the Ashes on Sunday night could not have been much further removed from the prevailing atmosphere at Sharjah Cricket Stadium.

This England appeal highlights the intensity and passion of an Ashes match.
This England appeal highlights the intensity and passion of an Ashes match.

SHARJAH // The revelry which spilled out of the Oval in south London after England regained the Ashes on Sunday night could not have been much further removed from the prevailing atmosphere at Sharjah Cricket Stadium. While England's players hastily prepared their game-plans to limit the damage of an evening out with Andrew Flintoff, the UAE's avid amateurs were breaking their fast and getting set for a 20-over hit-about.

Not many of the participants in the ever-popular Sharjah Ramadan Twenty20 Cup would have had any more than a passing interest in the result of the Ashes. But for one expatriate, Anglo-Australian duels will always have a special resonance. Colin Wells, the former England player, is back in Sharjah, beginning a new term coaching the UAE's national team after impressing in his three-month stint in charge earlier in the year.

It was ironic that he was in the emirate while England were securing victory over the old enemy. Australia were the opposition when Wells played the first of two one-day internationals for England, both at the Sharjah stadium. The Rothmans Four-Nations Cup of 1985 pitted England against India, Pakistan, and an Australia side that included Terry Alderman, Allan Border and Dean Jones, as well as the future South Africa captain, Kepler Wessels.

"It was a long time ago, but time doesn't cloud the fact that they were hard, and a particularly good side to play against," recalled Wells, 49. "That is what it felt like. When you play against Australia you don't give any quarter and you certainly don't expect any. "It is a great experience." Wells returned to these shores a fortnight ago, and will oversee the UAE's Intercontinental Shield challenge, as well as their bid to reach the World Twenty20 via the qualifiers, which are on home soil in February.

He is also in charge of the national team's development side, the ECB Blues, during the Ramadan Twenty20 competition in Sharjah. His enthusiasm for the task did not, however, prevent him from maintaining a keen eye on how events were unfolding back in his homeland "I don't think there is any other parallel in any other sport that I know of," he said of the Ashes rivalry. Regaining them on home soil in something particularly precious, because it is so rare.

"I know England are talking about being the best team in the world, but somehow that doesn't quite ring true at the moment. "As anyone who knows their sport will say, you have to keep your feet on the ground. Australia haven't become the worst team overnight and England haven't become the best team overnight. "There are plenty of other nations out there - India and South Africa in particular - who will give England a particularly hard time.

"It was only a year ago that we lost everything in India, and then had our problems in the West Indies, where we lost the Test series. "Yes, we are on a stepping stone to building a very good side, but as Andrew Strauss said, this is the start of something not the finish." The punishing nature of the series took its toll on Flintoff who will be on crutches for a minimum of six weeks after undergoing knee surgery on Monday night.

Flintoff underwent a routine arthroscopy and micro-fracture to two small areas in his right knee. pradley@thenational.ae