x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Over and out: last ball bowled on Emirates Palace cricket pitch

Cricketers ' desperately sad' that they can no longer play on pitch described as 'one of the most beautiful countrified cricket grounds' seen.

Kadeer Ali, of Marylebone Cricket Club, bats in a cricket match against the Emirates Palace team.
Kadeer Ali, of Marylebone Cricket Club, bats in a cricket match against the Emirates Palace team.

ABU DHABI // Umpires have called the last over at a favourite cricket ground of the legendary English commentator Henry Blofeld.

For the past five years fans of the game have flocked to the pitch at the Emirates Palace hotel to watch amateur players take to the crease.

The hotel has now said there will be no more cricket in their grounds until further notice, and a spokesman was unable to say when that might be.

Mr Blofeld, an Old Etonian whose cricket commentaries in his plummy English accent are heard by audiences worldwide on BBC radio, said he would be "desperately sorry" if the game were no longer played at the hotel.

"It's the most beautiful countrified cricket ground you've ever seen," he said. "All grassy banks, sea on one side, a causeway on the other, and, of course, the high-rise buildings of Abu Dhabi in the distance."

In the broader cricketing world, the Emirates Palace venue "was becoming quite a significant thing", he said.

"I enjoyed coming out there. But even if I never come again, I should be desperately sorry if the cricket stopped, because it was such a vibrant thing," said Mr Blofeld, who is also honorary president of the Emirates Palace Gentlemen's Cricket Club.

The decision leaves those who played in the unique location - hotel workers, students at the British School Al Khubairat and members of the Gentlemen's Cricket Club - without a home pitch.

"It's tremendously sad," said Russell Loughland, 46, from Britain, who played for the Gentlemen's Cricket Club.

Without access to the Emirates Palace field, Abu Dhabi cricketers have few venues besides the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium, said Dilawar Mani, the chief executive of Emirates Cricket Board and Abu Dhabi Cricket Club.

Amateurs began playing cricket on the Emirates Palace grounds in October 2006. Since then, the hotel has hosted frequent matches, providing a field for the Gentlemen's Cricket Club and for several Emirates Palace staff teams, with players from Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan.

The British School Al Khubairat played matches there against other school teams. And once a year, the Lashings Cricket Club - a touring team of ex-professionals - travelled from Britain to Abu Dhabi for a cricket festival on the hotel grounds.

While the Abu Dhabi Cricket Club hosts more than 500 games each year, including international tournaments, the Emirates Palace offered classic, village-style matches, Mr Mani said.

"The point about cricket at Emirates Palace was that it upheld the traditional values of the game," said Edward Atkinson, 45, from Britain, who played for the Gentlemen's Cricket Club.

Club members heard that their games would stop in an email sent last week by Andy Elliott, the Emirates Palace beach club director.

"As you may imagine, it is with immense personal sadness I have to advise you of the immediate cessation of all cricket at the Emirates Palace with immediate effect and until further notice," he wrote.

On Monday, Mr Elliott said his contract with the hotel had been terminated.

Hazem Harfoush, a spokesman for the hotel, said cricket matches had not been "completely cancelled". Rather, he said, they had been "put on hold" while the hotel reviews and reorganises its activities.

"We might still get something related to cricket at a later stage," Mr Harfoush said.

Mr Harfoush could not say if or when matches might resume. "It's in the process of discussion."

He said the decision was part of a "continuous strive" to update activities at the hotel, including plans to host its first polo match early next year.