Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah - a look at the UAE venues that will potentially host 2020 IPL and their Covid readiness

Indian Premier League will take place in the UAE from September 19 to November 10, subject to final government approval in both countries

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The IPL is set to return to the UAE when the 2020 season belatedly takes place between September 19 and November 10.

Many of those involved will remember what it was like when part of the tournament was exiled to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah in 2014, with India’s elections going on back at home.

There will be some slight differences, though – and not solely because of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The tournament is likely to start with no fans in attendance. But Mubashshir Usmani, the general secretary of the Emirates Cricket Board, has stated that there may be scope to admit 30 per cent, subject to safety approvals from the respective sports councils, and some point.

Here is what the teams will find when they arrive in the Emirates.

The IPL match played in Abu Dhabi was one of the best-attended sporting events in our country's history. Pawan Singh / The National

Abu Dhabi

Main venue: Zayed Cricket Stadium

Total capacity: 20,000 (30 per cent = 6,000)

Opened: 2006

Venue characteristics: One of the most visually arresting grounds in world cricket, because of its futuristic main stand, and grass banks square of the wicket.

Abu Dhabi also has one of the largest playing areas in the game. Ahead of the 2015 World Cup final, when New Zealand were being told they would struggle to switch from the postage stamp of Eden Park to the massive MCG, Brendon McCullum said they would be fine. They had only recently played in Abu Dhabi, he pointed out.

ABU DHABI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , October 22  – 2019 :- Harrison Carlyon of Jersey bowled out by Waheed Ahmed during the World Cup T20 Qualifiers between UAE vs Jersey held at Tolerance Oval cricket ground in Abu Dhabi.  ( Pawan Singh / The National )  For Sports. Story by Paul

Practice facilities: Abu Dhabi Cricket has more ovals on the same site than Dubai. There is the Zayed Cricket Stadium, the Tolerance Oval and Oval 2, all of first-class standard, and all within a six-hit of each other.

There is also space for a fourth wicket, were it needed, with an outfield reclaimed from the neighbouring football field.

Between the main stadium and the Tolerance Oval, there are turf net facilities with 24 lanes.

And MS Dhoni should have plenty of scope to satisfy his love for football, too. Adjacent to the cricket grounds are five international-standard grass pitches, four 4G community ones, plus eight five-a-side pitches.

Covid readiness: The IPL are apparently in talks with the people who have overseen the biosecurity operation for the English international summer.

The more intel the better, presumably – but Abu Dhabi is already beyond compare on this subject.

The city delivered international sport during the most stringent lockdown time. UFC Fight Island was a massive success, thanks to an astonishing Covid-security operation, with over 12,500 tests on the island itself.

“They’re light years ahead of everybody else in what’s going on with Covid,” Dana White, the UFC president, said of the link up with Abu Dhabi.

While there are no hotels on site at Abu Dhabi Cricket - unlike with Fight Island, as well as at the UK venues this summer - it seems well placed to operate a bio-secure bubble.

The vast open spaces around Zayed Cricket Stadium make access easy, and implementing a one-way system to limit traffic – if that aids the procedure – should be more than doable.

That includes for practice, but also on major match days. There are a variety of access routes to the dressing rooms, and contact points should be easy to minimise.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: N/A: Stock. General view of Dubai International Stadium located in Sports City, Dubai. Wednesday, May 20th, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Dubai

Main venue: Dubai International Stadium

Total capacity: 25,000 (30 per cent = 7,500)

Opened: 2009

Venue characteristics: The UAE's largest cricket stadium, and most recently constructed, with a distinctive tented roof above the grandstands – a design that was actually inspired by Sharjah Cricket Stadium.

It is perfectly appointed from a broadcast standpoint, and supporters – when they are allowed to attend - are afforded great sightlines.

The changing rooms are cavernous, with enough room to host even the largest entourages – and still socially distance, if needs be.

In terms of the pitch, it really has no fixed characteristics. Weirdly, the pitches at the T20 World Cup Qualifier last year did the opposite of what conventional wisdom suggests.

They took spin in the early matches, then flattened out to be good for batsmen, except for when a new pitch was cut – at which point it aided the seam bowlers. All players should find something to enjoy.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Paul Radley. Sport.  Chirag Suri bats. The UAE cricket team are back at training at the ICC academy after the government have eased restrictions due to Coivd-19/Coronavirus. Sunday, June 7th, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Practice facilities: There are none on site at Dubai International Stadium, but 4.5kms across Dubai Sports City, ICC Academy has some of the best cricket facilities in the world.

There are two floodlit, international-standard ovals for centre-wicket practice – or even matches, if needs be. Next to that, there is a vast block of nets.

That all adds up to 38 practice pitches – 12 with soil from Pakistan, four English, six from the Gabba in Brisbane, and six from the Waca in Perth, plus three hybrid and five synthetic. If that is not enough, there are also indoor nets on the same site.

There are more high-spec practice facilities in Dubai, too, 40kms away at The Sevens, Dubai, where there are three grass ovals, and a net area.

Covid readiness: Sports City is currently undergoing a small scale, low-key return to play, ahead of the IPL, in the form of the Emirates D10.

The tournament marks the return to competition for the country’s leading domestic cricketers, and is involving 34 matches over the course of two weeks.

There are hand sanitiser stations liberally placed around the ICC Academy, as well as temperature checks at the entrance – while admission is limited to those participating in the tournament. Steel fences are positioned to direct the flow of traffic.

The operation to bio-secure the facility for the IPL would be far more stringent, though.

Sharjah, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: N/A. Sport. Mohammad Jamil, the head curator of Sharjah cricket stadium looks out at the ground with a protective face mask. He has worked at the stadium for 40 years. Wednesday, June 24th, 2020. Sharjah. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Sharjah

Main venue: Sharjah Cricket Stadium

Total capacity: 15,000 (30 per cent = 4,500)

Opened: 1982

Venue characteristics: The UAE's oldest and most atmospheric cricket ground has been getting a spruce up, even before it was confirmed the IPL would be returning.

The changing rooms were expanded before the tournament was last here in 2014. Now they have been modernised again. The on-site gym has also been refurbished.

All of which will serve to complement the ambience of a ground that has plenty of history.

When batsmen go out to the crease in Sharjah, they might feel like they are in a rerun of Sachin Tendulkar’s Desert Storm, or any of the other classic matches that are frequently shown on Ten Sports.

They should be happy with the facilities, too. The wicket is traditionally flat, low bouncing, and the boundaries small.

Sharjah, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: N/A. Sport. The new gym at Sharjah cricket stadium. Wednesday, June 24th, 2020. Sharjah. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Practice facilities: While Abu Dhabi and Dubai were built on spacious sites a distance from the centre of their cities, Sharjah was constructed nearer into town in the late 1970s.

While it makes it the most accessible ground for walk-up supporters during normal times, it has also limited the extent for expansion.

As such, it has little room for growing its practice area beyond the net facility behind the stand on the western side of the stadium. That comprises seven lanes – three cement wickets and four turf.

Like the other two centres, it also neighbours football fields. But they will not be accessible to the players for training, as they belong instead to Sharjah Club, the Arabian Gulf League football champions, on the other side of the fence.

Covid readiness: While most of domestic cricket's attention has been on the Emirates D10 in Dubai, Sharjah has also begun to recommence cricket after lockdown.

The Sharjah 10, another 10-over tournament, has been played at the stadium, observing the recommendations of the ICC’s return to play guidelines.

That has included temperature checks at the entrance, admission to just the 15 participants per team, with no public allowed in.

But, as with Dubai, expect the measures to be ramped up significantly when the IPL arrives.

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