Dubai sixes cricket tournament set for return to emirate after 10-year absence
Annual event in emirate until decade ago, 12-team GCC Sixes - being organised by resettled Darjeeling club - makes comeback this weekend
The UAE’s oldest amateur cricket club hope to re-establish a forgotten feature of the sporting calendar when the Virtuzone GCC Sixes returns to Dubai this weekend.
The 12-team competition will involve teams from Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain – as well as five teams from the host club, Darjeeling.
The six-a-side tournament was an annual event in Dubai up until 10 years ago, when Darjeeling were forced to up sticks from a ground that had been their home since 1969.
The sand ground with a concrete wicket near Al Khail Road was bulldozed in January 2008 to make way for the construction of Meydan, leading Darjeeling into an extended search for a new home.
This involved playing matches at public parks, and at school fields in Sharjah. They have been based on the immaculate fields of the ICC Academy for four seasons now, and play around 60 matches per year there.
The GCC Sixes was traditionally played as a pre-cursor to the Chiang Mai Sixes, the world's largest amateur six-a-side event, in which Darjeeling have played for the past 30 years.
The competition itself was also exiled when Darjeeling left their permanent home, and has been played in Bahrain for the past three years.
The tournament took on some quirks with the move to Bahrain – not least the fact that sides had seven players rather than six.
Played on a matting wicket on the fields of Bahrain rugby club, hitting sixes was prohibited for safety reasons, given the proximity to a children’s swimming pool.
Stuart Matthewson, a Darjeeling player for the past 13 years, is happy the event is returning home, and hopes it will be for good.
“The teams have been asking us to reintroduce it, and this will be the first event after a long hiatus,” Matthewson said.
“The last tournament we hosted was in 2007, prior to the ground shutting in 2008. We definitely hope it can become a regular fixture on the cricket calendar here again.”
Although Darjeeling have been running for 48 years, they are a long way from being the oldest club in the competition.
Kuwait Casuals were founded in 1952. They have survived two Gulf Wars, reducing numbers of western cricket-playing expats, and even the departure of their club captain.
Scott Thies retains that post, despite being resident in Dubai, and playing more regularly for Darjeeling. He will be back in the Kuwait side this weekend.
“We’re traditionally the most social side, but the poorest performers,” Thies said.
“There are a couple of grounds in Kuwait now, with improved facilities and astroturf pitches, but there is not a regular competition.
“Our main opposition is the British Military Mission, and we get together once a month to have a match with them. Here in Dubai, it is an awesome level in comparison.
“With the reduction of expats in Kuwait it has reduced a little bit, but every year we find enough people to travel with, and can get together for a net session and a game.”
Darjeeling are not the only side competing in the Sixes who have enviable facilities to use at their home ground.
It might not be quite such a hi-spec as the ICC Academy, but Oman-based Dromedary, who get their name from the Arabian camel, play their home games at the floodlit National Cricket Stadium in Muscat. They will be playing in the GCC Sixes for the first time.
“We are not as old as Darjeeling, but are exactly the same in terms of a club for social cricket, rather than actually being any good at it,” said Neil Agate, who has experience of the competition himself as a former Darjeeling player.
“This is our first [Sixes] so it is a big event for us.”
Updated: November 7, 2017 03:57 PM