ICC in the UAE

How the ICC Cricket Academy is changing the sport in the UAE Discuss this article

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It’s the pub quiz question that would leave even the most enthusiastic of sports fans stumped. While many would lead with Lords’ or Australia’s iconic WACA when asked where the headquarters of cricket can be found, the answer is a little closer to home.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) moved from England to Dubai more than a decade ago, with the state-of-the-art ICC Academy opening in 2010.

Will Kitchen, who is helping to nurture the next generation of talent as the ICC Academy Manager and UAE Cricket High Performance chief, tells Time Out that the game’s stronghold here is quietly growing.

With an army of talented coaches and international stars from all corners of the globe regularly flying in to make use of the world-class facilities, Kitchen is overseeing a cricketing revolution.

“The ICC being based here is the UAE’s best-kept secret,” he says. “Everyone knows that Fifa is run from Zürich, but we have the great and good of the cricket world making decisions here. It’s a unique thing and makes us the centre of the cricketing landscape. It’s a big fillip for the region.”

It’s no surprise that everyone from schoolboy cricketers right through to The Little Master himself, Sachin Tendulkar, have made use of the impressive venue in the heart of Dubai Sports City.

The Academy boasts 38 natural practise pitches replicating playing conditions in Australia, England and India, as well as two full-size floodlit cricket ovals, hi-tech Hawk-Eye tracking and modern video analysis technology. There is also a plush performance gym and two spacious dressing rooms with massage tables and ice baths.

More than 1,000 children hone their skills at the academy each week. It is not just an elite proving ground either, as hundreds of club cricketers and corporate teams can also take part in tournaments.

Kitchen adds: “We have kids starting at the age of three with our Cubs teams, while the Warriors team takes kids from ages six to 18. The best players will join training development programmes. There is a lot of overlap in the strategies we have in place.

“We have international teams training and playing here, too,” he continues. “The Australian national team decided to train here ahead of its series with India, and last year we had 47 different professional teams visiting. There is nowhere else in the world you will find that level of elite players.”

It is an ambitious project, but one that is clearly working out for the team. “This is probably the best place of its kind on Earth,” Kitchen adds proudly. “We have a world-class venue with experienced coaches, sports scientists and sports medics all under one roof. It is a great advantage for the UAE national team. There is only one ICC Academy – and we have it here.”

The latest stage of this country’s cricketing progression came when central contracts were awarded to 12 players last year – starting the shift from part-time playing to a fully-blown professional era.

“We are trying to accelerate the team’s improvement,” says Kitchen. “The central contracts will take the UAE on a journey from being part-time cricketers to part of a professional, international side.

“Of all the sporting teams in the UAE, the cricket side has achieved the most, they have reached World Cups and are well ranked, but the success has received the least recognition.”

Kitchen says it is his mission to broaden the sport’s appeal in the UAE – and make sure the secret is out on the sport’s pivotal position in the region.

“It’s up to us to sell the merits of the game,” Kitchen says. “At the moment, the people who use our facilities are almost exclusively expats. We’re doing community projects to get more Emiratis playing and we also have big school programmes to help get kids involved in the game who may not be able to make it down to the academy. It’s all about getting more people involved.”

So if you want to be part of this cricketing revolution, oil your bat, dust off those pads and head down the road to Dubai…
ICC Cricket Academy, Dubai Sports City, Dubai, www.iccacademy.net (04 448 1355).

Three spots to watch cricket

Mcgettigan’s

The popular Irish bar boasts enough screens to help you keep track of all the matches happening simultaneously. There’s also delicious pub grub to tuck into while you’re at it.
Al Raha Beach Hotel, Channel Street, Al Raha (02652 4333).

Blu Sky Lounge & Grill

This swanky sports bar may be the home of Manchester City football fans, but it is also known to show a lot of love to those cheering on their favourite cricket team.
Southern Sun Abu Dhabi, Al Mina, Al Zahiya (02 818 4888).

The Sportsman’s Arms
Located inside the capital’s leading sports destination, Zayed Sports City, The Sportsman’s Arms is a family-friendly venue you can visit to get your cricket fix.
First Floor, International Tennis Centre (02 447 1066).

By Christopher Maxwell
Time Out Abu Dhabi,

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