x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Travelling teams help fill up the fixture lists for local schools

It is not only elite senior cricketers who are benefiting from the UAE's cricket pitches turning into a Little England in late March and early April.

ABU DHABI // Spring time in the UAE is evidently the place to be for cricketers. Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, the Indian batsmen, will be heading to these shores this week, along with some of England's leading county sides.

An experienced MCC side will raise the curtain on the English domestic season at the Zayed Cricket Stadium, just as the emerging cricketers of the Lord's institution's academy programmes are heading home from their own trip here.

Kent, meanwhile, found the answer to the problem of soggy pre-season pitches in the UK by booking some late flights to Dubai to practice at the International Cricket Council's Global Cricket Academy.

It is not only elite senior cricketers who are benefiting from the UAE's cricket pitches turning into a Little England in late March and early April.

A number of leading cricket schools from the UK have also undertaken pre-season tours here, which has in turn given some valuable game time to match-starved UAE international schools. Three schools, Dubai College, Repton and the British School Al Khubairat have been able to top up their otherwise relatively bare fixture lists with matches against the touring sides.

The British School claimed their maiden success over a touring side when their Under 13s beat Feltonfleet, a Surrey preparatory school, in the grounds of the Emirates Palace hotel on Friday, thanks to a hard-hit 77 from Tom Mason.

King College and Stowe, two leading UK schools, and the Netherlands U14 side will be providing sterner tests in the coming weeks.

"It is wonderful for the school to host matches against such well-established cricketing schools," Colin Wells, the director of cricket at the British School, said.

"It is a good yardstick, especially for the English boys. It is a good comparison for them to know, if they ever go back home, the standards of English schoolboys.

"The cricket they play is a slightly different style to [that played in other Abu Dhabi schools]. The batting is more circumspect for example."

Schoolboy cricketers in the UAE can do with the benefits of having their horizons broadened.

The sport is barely more than an after-school activity for most schools beyond the subcontinental expatriate community.

Unlike in rugby, which has taken its lead from long established clubs such as the Dubai Exiles and Abu Dhabi Harlequins, competitive cricket is played by relatively few western expatriate children here.

"Rugby has had a good network in the expat community for 20 years because of the [Abu Dhabi Harlequins] rugby club, but cricket hasn't got anywhere like that here," Ed Lydall, a cricket master at the British School, said.

"The children have been getting their first exposure to playing cricket at school.

"That is not the same in rugby. Rugby is more developed because of the extra training the boys get at their clubs."

Some schools are trying to redress the balance, but the process is slow.

"I am relishing the challenge of developing these boys' cricket," Wells, the former coach of the UAE national team, said.

"When I was their age I went to a state school and we didn't have a cricket team.

"I used to go along and watch my dad or older brother play cricket and play on the side of the pitch, then we started a colts side, which is still there today.

"Any sport is a numbers game and that is what we are looking to create at our school.

"I am taking more compulsory games lessons as cricket to expose more boys to the sport."