[NOTE: Please tag in “In Focus: Jon Pike’s Cricket Column”]
Standfirst: Cricket is flourishing in the Emirates for both men and women, thanks to hectic schedules, good coaching and long-term planning
By: Jon Pike
It is going to be a busy time for UAE cricket.
First, the men’s team will compete in a tri-series against the US and Scotland, which will host the matches in Aberdeen between Aug. 10 and 16.
These matches are part of the International Cricket Council’s 2019-2023 Cricket World League Cup 2, which forms part of the qualification process for the 2023 World Cup. After that, the team will move to Oman to contest, between Aug. 20 and 24, the final qualifying place for the 2022 Asia Cup. Thirdly, irrespective of whether the team qualifies, the UAE will host the Asia Cup.
This congestion of events reflects the ongoing recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on international cricket schedules.
In the Cricket World Cup League 2, seven teams will complete 36 separate 50-over matches against each other in sets of tri-series, with two points awarded for a win. Oman has played all of its matches and tops the table with 44 points. Occupying the next three places are Scotland, with 34 points from 24 matches, then the UAE, with 26 from 22, and then the US, with 23 from 24. The forthcoming matches are crucial for all three teams, as the top-three finishers will join five full member teams in a final qualifying stage. The league is due to be completed in February, but two tri-series events, both involving the UAE, have to be rescheduled owing to their postponement during the pandemic.
The Asia Cup has suffered severe disruption. In December 2018, the Pakistan Cricket Board was granted the hosting rights by the Asia Cricket Council (ACC) for the 2020 Cup. This did not sit well with India, initially due to security concerns, later exacerbated by political tensions. India’s participation came into doubt, a situation not helped by claims and counterclaims by the respective parties. None of these mattered, as the pandemic intervened and, on July 9, 2020, the ACC announced postponement until mid-2021. Through a combination of the pandemic and India reaching the final of the World Test Championship, the event did not take place.
Since 2008, the Asia Cup has been scheduled to be held every two years. Now that the 2020 edition will be held in 2022, there is a backlog. In order to resolve this, there will be a 2023 edition, for which Pakistan has been awarded the hosting rights, having swapped its 2020 rights with Sri Lanka. This could have resolved the issue of India not being prepared to play in Pakistan. Subsequent political, economic and social upheaval in Sri Lanka has led to the decision to switch the playing of the tournament to the UAE, although Sri Lanka will retain the hosting rights and the opportunity to earn much needed income of around $6 million.
A further complexity exists in that the format alternates between editions. Until and including 2016, the format had been 50-over One Day International. It was decided that the 2018 edition would be played in the T20 format, the 2020 edition as ODI and in 2022 under the T20 rules again. The pandemic has disturbed this plan so, in order to bring the sequence back into line, the 2020 Cup will be played in T20 format (in 2022) and the 2022 Cup to ODI format in 2023.
Officially, the upcoming tournament is billed as 2022 Asia Cup, opening on Aug. 27 and ending on Sept. 11. It is unlikely that the identity of the team which has seized the final place will be known until Aug. 24.
The UAE will be competing against Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuwait. Teams will play each other once in a round robin format, with the winner being the team with the most points. It will face the daunting prospect of joining India and Pakistan in Group A. This pair will lock horns on Aug. 28 in what should be a spicy affair in Dubai. Group B will comprise Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The top two teams in each group will progress to the Super 4 stage.
After the hectic weeks between Aug. 10 and Sept. 2 — longer should the UAE reach the Super 4s — the UAE men’s team will turn its attention, no doubt, to the T20 World Cup in Australia. There, it will play its first group stage match on Oct. 16. Its qualification for this tournament marks a major step forward for a team which has reached a ranking of 11th in T20 cricket and 13th in ODIs.
It is no surprise that the Emirates Cricket Board also has ambitions to grow women’s cricket. On June 25, 2022, by beating Malaysia in the final of the ACC Women’s T20 Championship, the UAE women’s team matched the world record for the longest unbeaten run in all T20 international cricket.
This 20-match record had been set by England’s women in 2012. Prior to six unbeaten matches in the ACC tournament, the UAE team won all four of its matches against Hong Kong in April, after winning all five matches in the Gulf Cooperation Council’s Women’s Gulf Cup in Oman in March 2022. The unbeaten run had started in November 2021 in the T20 Asia World Cup qualifiers in Dubai, where the team won all of its five matches and propelled itself into the final qualifying stage for the 2023 World Cup, due to be held in South Africa in February.
The qualifying tournament will take place in Abu Dhabi between Sept. 18 and 25, 2022. It will be contested by eight teams: Bangladesh, Ireland, Scotland and the US in Group A; Papua New Guinea, Thailand, UAE and Zimbabwe in Group B.
The top two teams in the tournament will progress to the World Cup. After the qualifying tournament, the UAE women’s team will compete in the ACC Women’s Asia Cup in Bangladesh in October.
These hectic schedules reflect success through good coaching and planning. There can be little doubt that cricket is flourishing in the UAE for both men and women, with no let-up in prospect.