Success of ICC Academy boosts UAE’s prospects for T20 World Cup in Australia

Emergence of young talent suggests country is reaping benefits of world-class facility in Dubai Sports City

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After UAE sealed qualification for the T20 World Cup last week, coach Robin Singh said he will now turn his attention to working out which players will be best suited to succeed in Australia.

Pitch conditions, for one thing, are likely to be entirely different to those which mostly prevail in the Middle East. And yet the country has been equipped for a situation like this for more than a decade, now.

While it was under construction, the ICC Academy in Dubai Sports City imported clay from Brisbane to use on the wicket block of one of its ovals.

No one knew whether the experiment would make a discernible difference. Time has shown that those pitches are, in fact, faster than the characteristics of the other wickets, which are based on clay from Pakistan.

“Having multiple surfaces [in one place] gives everyone the chance to prepare the way they should for a long duration,” Qasim Ali, the head of cricket development at the ICC Academy, said.

“If, for argument's sake, Oman doesn’t have Australian clay, or Gabba wickets to prepare on, and they just have South Asian clay, they are more likely to be behind the eight ball.

“UAE is in a position where it has seven months to get players ready on faster pitches for the World Cup in Australia. That is going to be a big challenge.”

For years, international teams have beaten a path to Sports City in the knowledge they will be able to replicate many of the conditions they will be set to face on tour.

Now the home country itself is reaping the rewards, with cohorts of young players passing through the ICC Academy equipped to deal with differing challenges.

Nine of the 15-player squad who won the plate competition at the Under 19 World Cup in the Caribbean last month are from the Academy.

UAE players hold the trophy after beating Ireland by eight wickets to win the U19 World Cup Plate final on January 31, 2022 at Queen's Park Oval. Photo: ICC

Their absence for that tour meant the academy’s representative side had to forfeit three UAE U19 A division championship fixtures. Yet they still returned to dominate the competition and claim the title, for the second season running.

“Some people might say it’s unfair with us being such a strong team, but we feel like we have worked really hard to get to this stage,” said Abhay Katoch, a fast-bowling all-rounder who has played at the academy for the past four years.

“We feel like we deserve this trophy. We all want to work towards the national men’s setup, and a few of our guys have been part of the men’s setup. We are all aspiring to the next level.”

Coach Qasim believes a raft of players are well on the path to reaching that level already. He expects leg-spinner Adithya Shetty and all-rounder Ali Naseer, in particular, to be pushing for places in the World Cup squad come October.

He also thinks many of the practices adopted at the ICC Academy since his arrival at the start of 2017 are already trickling down to the wider junior game across Dubai.

“If you look around, a lot of the academy directors are now replicating what is happening with our scholarship programme and also our curriculum,” Qasim said.

“The quality of cricket has improved, but overall for UAE there are more resourceful cricketers who are becoming allrounders as opposed to one-discipline players.

“It has been good to lead the pack in terms of generating some interest in terms of what needs to be done and working in the same direction in terms of a vision for UAE cricket. There’s been a trickle-down effect with everything.”

Nilansh Keswani, another ICC Academy product, agrees aspiring national team players are lucky to have access to its facilities.

“The ICC Academy has the very best facilities you can have, because of all the different types of wickets,” Keswani said.

“There are Asian wickets, Australian pitches. It is good for us that the men’s side can prepare for Australia. Hopefully, we can make it to the Super 12s.”

Jash Giyanani, another member of the academy’s title-winning side, is excited by the idea of trying to push for a place in the World Cup squad.

“I think everybody has a chance,” said Giyanani, who is a left-arm spinner, like his teammate Keswani.

“It is about performance. If you perform well enough, you are in there. You are definitely going to get noticed, you are definitely going to get recognition.

“You are going to get chances if you perform well. I don’t think anyone is out of the mix, or anyone is 100 per cent there.”

Updated: March 05, 2022, 10:46 AM