Darjeeling pushes the boundaries in summer heat
DUBAI // A group of amateur expatriate cricketers trickles on to a grass outfield armed with bats, pads, balls, stumps, a manual scoreboard and several bottles of water.
It is about 2pm at the Sharjah English School cricket field and the temperature is 42°C.
Despite the heat, more than 15 enthusiastic members of the Darjeeling Cricket Club, mostly dressed in white, gather to play a four-hour match against a company team.
A small audience, mostly players from the batting team, as well as family and friends, sits on plastic chairs and cheers the teams on from the school's gallery overlooking the cricket field.
This is the scene at the school every Friday all year, regardless of the weather. Players take turns so the club's 50-odd regulars get their chance on the 11-member team.
The Darjeeling CC is one of the oldest cricket clubs in the country, dating back to pre-federation days. It was established in 1969 by a group of expatriates working with a company that was building the Jebel Ali port.
"Many of them had moved down to Dubai from Bahrain," says Chris Dommett, one of the longest-serving members, who first played for the club in 1996.
"There was not much to do in Dubai in those days so they decided to start playing cricket. It was the first European expat-organised cricket club in the UAE. Initially, the members were mainly British but we now have Aussies, South Africans, Kiwis and even an Emirati as well."
So what inspires these Dubai residents to drive up to Sharjah to sweat it out on a game that has its roots in 16th century England? They say it is passion and love of the sport.
"We all come to Dubai to work but if we get to do something socially, it's great," says Douglas Griebenouw, one of the team's best batsmen. "People meet for brunches but we meet to play cricket."
Stuart Matthewson, a bowler, says: "Yes, we're mad, but we are English."
With busy schedules at work and home, the afternoon is the only time for a match, they say.
The tough part is getting other teams to play against in the summer. The club reduces the game from 35 overs to 20 to ensure players do not tire out or suffer from heat stroke.
Cricketing in the harshest months has not been without mishaps. In the summer of 2009, the players were exhausted and dehydrated after a match in Dubai's Zabeel Park.
"The humidity was over 80 per cent," says Nicholas Harvey, a batsman at the club for the past five years. "The temperature was in the high 40 degrees. We had to reduce the game to 10 overs play, which is the only time I know we've cut a match short. If you bat for a long time, it gets really hard."
Mr Harvey says the team's woes worsened when they ran out of water: "We feared for some of the older players in the club."
In the cooler months, the group usually plays two games every Friday, mostly against company teams.
Darjeeling CC travels to Thailand every April for a week to compete in the Chiang Mai International Cricket Sixes, where it has participated for the past 24 years.
Over the years, the club has hosted touring international teams with tournaments in Sharjah. Passing ships from various navies in the Gulf have also provided competition.
The club used to host annual tournaments for players from Bahrain, Saudi, Kuwait and Oman.
Darjeeling CC can be reached on facebook.com/groups/2379374320