The summer heat may force UAE residents indoors, but it need not render them inactive. A first of a season-long series on the country's indoor havens.
How to play 16 overs when it's 40 degrees
DUBAI // For 12 years, Ali Tahir and his friends have gathered at an air-conditioned warehouse in the dusty Al Quoz district to play cricket on even the most scorching of summer days. "This place gives you a chance to keep playing," Mr Tahir said. "There is an adrenalin rush playing here. Every ball holds the chance of a run out, a six or four."
Indoor cricket is one of the many ways in which UAE residents have adapted to the searing summers, modifying their games and hobbies to account for some of the hottest temperatures on the planet. Some 250 people visit the Insportz club in its Al Quoz warehouse on a typical weekday, and the crowd jumps to as many as 1,000 people a day over the weekend. Indoor cricket is the biggest draw at the club, which requires no membership, only that courts be booked ahead of time.
Bright lights shine on playing areas that have been marked out to accommodate games of football, basketball and badminton. But cricket remains the dominant sport with shouts of "goal!" drowned out by roars of "shot!" Young and old cricketers yell instructions and balls smash into nets dividing six courts. Groups of players huddle in intense strategy discussions or yell at the umpire, questioning his every decision.
This year 80 teams will participate in five cricket tournaments at Insportz, up from 64 teams last year. The club found success slowly. It opened 13 years ago in its 33,000 square metres of high-ceiling space off Sheikh Zayed Road, but popularity took five years to achieve. "There was nothing in Al Quoz when we arrived. It's an advantage now that residential areas are closer," explained the Insportz manager Myron Rodrigues. "Also people come from Abu Dhabi, Fujairah for league games."
Mr Tahir summarised the early days thusly: "It was a struggle to find teams to play against." Indoor cricket rules differ from the longer version with eight players per side, a physical run needed even for boundaries and sixers and each batting pair must bat for at least two overs. The club provides the umpire and equipment including bats, gloves and cricket balls. Charges range from Dh35 per person per hour for a football game or a practice cricket session to between Dh375 and Dh525 for an eight- to 16-over cricket game.
The club also offers games such as tug of war and dodgeball for children's birthday parties. Johann Kunkel, a German banker, comes to Insportz to play football twice a month with friends. "This gets your mind off work. It's fast and great exercise," he said during a break from a half-hour game. "And where else can you go when it's summer?" Corporate events are popular, with banks and infrastructure companies booking courts for the day.
Alan Mckeown, the deputy general manager of manufacturing firm Hepworth, sat with 70 staffers on bleachers, cheering a company game. "It's great for team spirit. Many of the boys are from India and Pakistan so they are enjoying the game thoroughly," said Mr Mckeown, who is Leicestershire-born but has lived in the UAE for 16 years. "It's good for team-building." For Terence Tellis, a Mumbai-born software engineer, the weekend does not begin until he plays cricket. At least a dozen colleagues from the technology firm First Video Communication split into sales, technical and logistics teams for face-offs every Thursday.
"We look forward to it, it keeps us in shape and helps everyone catch up," said Mr Tellis, raising his voice to be heard over his colleagues' banter about team composition. And sometimes, it is not only the seasons of nature but the seasons of man that are at play here. "Maybe we relieve old memories and hope to perform as well as we once did," said Abid Siddiqi, a 44-year-old airline finance manager who formerly played club cricket. "We usually spend the next day complaining about aches and pains."
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