Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 September 2019

Cricket fever hits the streets in Dubai

The first Gillette Ramadan street cricket tournament is proving a smash hit at Global Village

As the world’s finest sent down the first overs of the Cricket World Cup 4,500 miles away in England, an equally competitive tournament of street players was getting underway in Dubai.

The game may look the same, with two sets of wickets, two batsman and ball, albeit a tennis ball wrapped in plastic tape, but street cricket is a world away from the glitz and glamour of the international spectacle.

Competition is fierce at the first Gillette Ramadan street cricket tournament, with 32 of the UAE’s finest teams batting it out for a share of $15,000 worth of prizes.

For Sri Lankan all rounder Mohammad Nafeel, 28, street cricket is the highlight of his week.

Like many of his friends, Mohammad spends Friday mornings taking on rival teams of street players on the dusty wastelands and desert areas on the fringes of Dubai.

“This is not like normal cricket,” he said, as his team, the Ceylon Blasters, prepared to take on Zalmi Qalander.

“It is tough, but a good way to learn how to play - and you don’t need money. You can play anywhere.

“We usually play in Jumeirah, opposite the college or in Zabeel.

“I work for Alba Cars in the week, but every day I can’t wait to play cricket.”

More than 350 amateur players from Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan have descended on two newly built pitches next to Global Village, an abandoned car park which has been re-imagined for the four-day tournament.

The tournament structure is a knockout format, with the first round of games getting underway on Thursday night.

Each match is approximately one hour long, with each team batting just six overs each.

The winning team of each game progresses to the next round, with the losing team going home.

It is good for the future of cricket in the UAE.”

Mohammad Naveed, UAE cricket captain.

Batsmen do not wear protective pads, but the skill levels and hand eye co-ordination required to pick out the ball from the bright lights are similar to what is required in the professional game.

Spin is less of a factor, but fast bowlers can generate movement through the air to outfox the batsmen, forcing them into playing a false shot.

Bats are much lighter than those usually found on a cricket field too, weighing just 700 grams.

Haseeb Shah, a security guard from Pakistan, is playing for the Zalma Qalander.

“Cricket is my life,” he said.

“It means so much to all of us, it is something we all look forward to all week.

“We can’t always watch the games at the World Cup, but I will try to listen on the radio.

“Playing street cricket with my friends is the next best thing.

“We have a very strong team, with many all-rounders so we have a chance to win.”

Gillette is supporting street cricket to help develop the UAE’s ‘sporting DNA’.

The tournament is offering a stage for amateur players to display their skills honed on the temporary tracks of car parks and waste areas of the UAE.

Captain of the UAE cricket team and Gillette ambassador, Mohammad Naveed, learnt how to play the game he loves in street cricket match in Khor Fakkan.

“A tennis ball can be bowled very fast and can swing, so players have to have a good eye to succeed,” he said.

“It is a great way for kids to get into cricket, and to learn how to bat, and how to bowl.

“The ball does not hurt, but you have to have a good guard and put bat to ball..

“It is a good standard, there are some impressive players here. I think it is good for the future of cricket in the UAE.”

The first two rounds of the tournament conclude on Friday, with the finals weekend held on June 6 and 7.

Updated: May 31, 2019 11:34 AM

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