Head to a park in the UAE at the weekend and you will find kids enjoying a fun game of cricket. There will be Indians, Pakistanis, Aussies and Brits eagerly wanting a go in to bat or have a bowl.
Unfortunately, you will not find many Emirati youngsters in the slips or waiting for their turn at the crease. But that could all change.
With the UAE national team currently playing on the biggest stage of all at the ICC Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand; the hosting of the IPL last year; and regular international matches in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, it is the perfect time to get Emirati youngsters involved with the game.
For these reasons, the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) has announced a new ‘Emirati Development Program’ targeted at children aged 8-13.
There are already 50-70 UAE nationals playing youth cricket in Al Ain, so it was a no-brainer to launch the programme there in September with 300 students from five schools.
The second phase, to begin in 2016, will involve 600 students from 10 schools across Al Ain and Abu Dhabi. The third and final phase, commencing in 2017, will involve 1,000 students from 15 schools across Al Ain, Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
While the UAE take on the best teams in the world, there are only two players in the squad who are Emirati, including captain Mohammed Tauqir.
“Indigenous development in cricket is absolutely crucial,” said David East, chief executive officer of the ECB. “We have a national side that has achieved amazing things, but we need to make sure the next generation of cricketers that goes to the World Cup has been nurtured through the projects we are about to embark on. In due course it will pay enormous dividends for cricket in this country.”
The programme – which is funded by a three-year partnership with Al Ain Water – will be co-ordinated by Andrew Russell, the national development manager of the ECB.
The funding brought in through the partnership will also allow the ECB to employ an Arabic-speaking development officer who will work with Russell to roll out the programme.
“The project is getting to the grassroots of cricket,” said Russell. “A lot of players in the schools we are going to target have probably never played or heard of the game of cricket. We are introducing them to the game.
“The ECB has a responsibility to develop them and develop the culture of cricket.”
The International Cricket Council’s head of global development Tim Anderson was also present at the announcement and he praised the ECB for the initiative.
“This is an exciting time for cricket in the UAE,” said Anderson. “When a national team qualifies for a World Cup, short-termism often happens. There is a big focus on the event.
“The ECB has prepared the best UAE national team ever to leave these shores, but the fact that the organisation has been able to focus on sustainability and the long-term at the same time is incredibly special.”