Indoor Cricket World Cup is spreading its roots and popularity in the UAE

Denzil Pinto 18:06 11/09/2017
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Cricket as you may not have seen it before.

When England play West Indies in the lone Twenty20 match in Durham on Saturday, more than 3,000 miles away, the Indoor Cricket World Cup will get under way in Dubai.

Not only will the UAE be hosting the tournament for the first time, it will also be the first Indoor World Cup to be staged in the Middle East in its 22-year history.

Although it’s not played by professionals, the fact that it’s been running for more than two decades speaks volumes of how the format has grown.

This year’s edition at InSportz Club will see more than 400 players as hosts UAE, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, England, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, who have won every global title, vie for glory in the men’s, women’s, Under-21 men’s and U-21 women’s categories between September 16-23.

It might not be as high-profile as the ICC World Cup or the World Twenty20, but those numbers show there is a growing market in this version of the game.

The inaugural World Cup in England was held in 1995, but it was way back in the 1970s when the game really took off on the other side of the world in Perth.

Played inside nets and with different methods of scoring runs in a 16-over-a-side match, the fast-paced action game appealed to not just players, but spectators.

Even the likes of Sir Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd and Desmond Haynes gave it the thumbs up when the great West Indies side played an exhibition match against Western Australia before the first Test during their 1984-85 tour to Australia.

So, it was no surprise to see several Test-nation playing countries catch the indoor cricket buzz with regular fixtures, varying from club level to international series’ arranged.

With the World Cup hosted every two to three years from 1995 and the format established in places like England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, a new chapter was marked in 2004 when the World Indoor Cricket Federation (WICF) was launched.

With the platform already there, their mission is to continue promoting the game and take it to the next level.

Their calendar now includes the Tri-Nations Cup, Master World Series’ and Test series with Australia, England, South Africa, New Zealand, India, Singapore, Wales, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and the UAE all members.

As members, one of their roles is to hold regular leagues every season which help create awareness for people to take up the game.

For instance, in England there are six recognised indoor centres and approximately 4,000 playing, while there’s one international standard pitch and around 400 players in Singapore. Yet, those statistics dwarf the 186,000 registered cricketers who play in the 90 centres in Australia.

That’s no surprise considering that indoor cricket is supported by Cricket Australia, the country’s governing body for cricket. Malaysia Cricket Association have also followed in their footsteps and WICF is hopeful more countries will follow suit.

Yet, despite having 10 members on their books, WICF doesn’t want to stop there.
They have big ambitions in making the game even bigger than it is. So instead of going back to the likes of Australia, New Zealand, England and Sri Lanka, which have all hosted a World Cup, WICF wanted to tap into a new market and identified the UAE as the perfect fit.

“Indoor cricket is now a very competitive sport and there are a lot of international competitions happening now,” Greg Donnelly, president of the WICF told Sport360°. “It’s expanding with South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand playing the game and having good numbers on their books.

“While we have hosted the World Cup in those nations, we want to create awareness and that’s why we are playing in the UAE now.

“We want to present the game in the UAE and hopefully look into other countries in the possibility of hosting a tournament.”

By awarding the hosting rights to the UAE, it could well open the doors for the game to take its biggest step yet.

With the ICC based in Dubai, the WIFC have the perfect opportunity to impress their outdoor counterparts. WICF’s ultimate goal is to see it played at either the Commonwealth or Olympic Games. Previously, the ICC have explored the possibility of including the outdoor game in one of the events but there has been no real progress.

Yet, Donnelly believes the indoor game ticks all the boxes for it to be a success, but knows the ICC’s support would be a massive boost for it to be considered on future rosters.

Invitations have been sent to the ICC to attend the tournament and Donnelly is hopeful they will be impressed.

“We understand it’s baby steps and it can be a long process,” he said. “We are looking to develop our interest with the ICC and build up in that area. I’m more confident if they come on board that we’ll be in a much stronger position to possibly have it in the Commonwealth Games or an Olympic Games.”

When the ICC officials do visit, they, as well as the others at InSportz Club, will notice a familiar face in action.

With plenty of Test, ODI and T20 experience under his belt, New Zealand all-rounder Jesse Ryder (left) has shifted his focus to the indoor game for a chance to lead the Black Caps to World Cup glory.

Having a figure of Ryder’s profile, a cricketer who has played in the IPL, is further evidence that the indoor game is being taken seriously for even ex-internationals.

Sandeep Patil, a 1983 World Cup winner, will also be in Dubai this week as the brand ambassador for the Indian cricket team.

“New Zealand and Australia have a very rich history in producing very good players,” added Donnelly. “There’s a lot more cross-over and with the advent of T20 success, people can see the synergies of playing indoor cricket.

“The days are gone where the outdoor game will have a negative impact on the indoor game, that holds no water. If anything, I can say indoor cricket will help your outdoor skills particularly at a young age.”

Robert Sheary has been associated with the game since he was 10 and will be playing in his fourth World Cup for New Zealand.

“Indoor cricket has come a long way,” he said. “There has been a great growth since 2007 and not just the men’s competitions but in other age groups and World Cup and Masters series, which is good for the game.”

“The fast action, thrill and heat of the competition was something I was hooked when starting.”
For the UAE, who are fielding sides in the men’s and women’s categories, they have their work cut out to stand top of their class.

But, Andrew Russell, national development manager of the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB), believes the World Cup can have a big effect on the UAE.

“I think it’s more about awareness more than anything,” he said. “It puts the sport on a lot of radars where people who will be watching it, will want to try out the game, which we hope will be the case.”

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