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10 December 2023

Finding a gem in the middle of the desert

The soon-to-be-ready Dubai Cricket Stadium at DSC flanks the ICC Global Cricket Academy. (SUPPLIED)

By Ahmad Lala

Local players in the UAE will be one of the key areas of focus for the International Cricket Council's (ICC) Global Cricket Academy, according to its coaches.

The Dubai Sports City-based academy, which is expected to open its doors in September, will eventually boast two ovals, each with 10 turf pitches, simulating the different conditions of wickets found around the world. Thus, the venue can be used as a stop-over for international teams on their way to tours.

However, recently appointed head coaches Dayle Hadlee and Mudassar Nazar, who join Director of Coaching Rod Marsh, have reassured local cricket hopefuls they would not be forgotten amid the glamour of the venue.

"One of our pillars is to help the local people, who are very important for us," says Hadlee, at the Dubai Sports City (DSC) headquarters. "We are not here to come and take over, we want to support and enhance what is already here."

That process has already begun, with Hadlee revealing he has met with several principals to discuss how the academy and schools can benefit each other.

He is also working on developing an internationally recognised Level One coaching course to help school teachers and says the facilities at the academy will be available for various people.

"There will be an opportunity in the early stages for people to have access to competitions we will run," says Hadlee, who was the founder of the New Zealand cricket academy. "Initially there will be different levels of school kids and it might be with a soft ball with four games on a oval.

"But then there will also be higher standards of cricket, with 20-50-over games taking place during the day, with club teams coming during the evenings. So there will be a lot of opportunities for people here to be involved in the facilities, especially in the early days.

"The academy is wide reaching, not only for playing, but also for coaches and groundstaff who can share their knowledge."

Twenty20 cricket has taken the world by storm in recent years and with the advent of the Indian Premier League (IPL), it's the format where the most revenue is generated in the game for both organisers and players.

The IPL reportedly made profits in excess of $200 million (Dh736m) last season, while players such as Kevin Pietersen ($1.55m), Andrew Flintoff ($1.55m) and Mahendra Singh Dhoni ($1.5m) all earn enormous salaries.

However, Marsh has emphatically ruled out the academy teaching its students the art of mastering the format: "The minute people start teaching kids how to play Twenty20 then, in my opinion, the game is doomed.

"We should be teaching the game of cricket and it is about learning the basics, not teaching someone how to hit across the line, reverse sweep and all that. To do those things you need to know the basics first.

"The best Twenty20 players are all your best cricket players – with a few exceptions. The only reason some of the better cricketers are not good [in the format] is because they just don't like it."

However, that is not to say the academy will seek to change players with unorthodox techniques, as countries such as England, Australia and New Zealand sometimes try to do. Thus a future Sohail Tanvir, who bowls off the wrong foot, or an Ajantha Mendis, who has new spin variations, will have every chance of progressing through the ranks in Dubai.

"There is a difference between philosophies of the countries," said Hadlee. "The more European-minded countries are bio-mechanical, whereas in the Asian countries, if the bowler is bowling well, accurately and getting wickets they just leave it alone.

"They then concentrate on strengthening the body to cope with the bowler's action but in the European countries, we say, here is a model – bio-mechanically sound – which we try to fit people into."

Former Australia wicket-keeper Marsh adds: "If you mess with someone's action there is every bit of possibility that they may lose what they have.

"I think we will use a combination of philosophies and won't be trying to reinvent the wheel. We will be using practice methods we have been brought up with as well as our combined styles."