The International Cricket Council (ICC) hopes to assist cricketers from non-Test nations, such as the UAE, in travelling to play as overseas professionals in the United Kingdom and other leading cricket-playing countries.
As part of its plan for the elite game here, the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) aims to send some of its centrally-contracted, professional players to the UK in the future to play club cricket.
The idea is to give players exposure to playing conditions they are unused to, at a time when the intense summer heat of the UAE means minimal cricket is played here.
Cricket greats such as Viv Richards, Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist, and many others spent time playing in the UK's club game in their formative years.
Some UAE players have played recreational cricket in the UK, but only as a secondary commitment to studying.
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Rameez Shahzad was part of the county academy set up at Durham while studying for a degree in the UK’s north east. That was counter-productive to UAE cricket, however, as the time he spent in the UK invalidated his eligibility to represent the national team.
Yodhin Punja debuted for the UAE while still at school in Abu Dhabi, before securing a scholarship to attend school in the south of England. Jonathan Figy, the most promising youth cricketer in the country, recently left Abu Dhabi on a similar sports scholarship.
The opportunity to now send senior players there has only come about since the ECB started to employ its own professionals in July 2016.
Rohan Mustafa, the national team captain, was due to be the first beneficiary of the scheme from this summer, and was scheduled to play club cricket in Birmingham. However, his visa application was rejected.
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The ECB remains unclear as to whether this was due to administrative errors made in previous applications counting against him, or whether he did not meet the visa criteria of the UK Home Office.
Players from outside the Test sphere are essentially barred from playing county cricket by visa regulations stating they must be “an elite sportsperson or qualified coach, who’s recognised by your sport’s governing body as being at the highest level of your profession internationally”.
There is provision for players to travel to play club cricket as individual migrants on “temporary worker” visas, but this process has also become increasingly opaque of late.
As such, the ECB has been exploring the idea of sending players to Zimbabwe instead, despite having less knowledge of the standard of cricket played there.
According to Will Glenwright, the ICC’s head of global development, the governing body is aware of the issues facing players from developing cricket nations. He says it wants to smooth the path to greater opportunities offered in the Test nations.
“It is on our radar, and is part of the high performance strategy we are developing,” Glenwright said.
“One aspect of that is to create opportunities where players from Associate members can more readily access and play in professional competitions in England, Australia, South Africa and the like.
“Whilst we are not specifically addressing that issue yet with the [England and Wales Cricket Board], it is on our radar and is part of the strategy we are developing.
“It is an issue that is bigger than cricket. It is a visa issue, but we do need to look at how we provide more access to elite professional competitions around the world.”
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A number of talented players from beyond cricket’s mainstream would benefit from greater access to the sport’s established elite countries.
Rashid Khan (Afghanistan) The brilliant young leg-spinner won a lavish deal to play in the Indian Premier League this year, and then he had his earning potential further enhanced when Afghanistan were upgraded from Associate to Full member status by the ICC.
Immediately it made him eligible for the elite sportsperson visa in the UK. He is said to have plenty of potential suitors in county cricket.
Rohan Mustafa (UAE) He went unsold in the Pakistan Super League draft this year, and he was then sounded out about being a replacement player for the final in Lahore, only to miss out again.
The UAE captain, who has overseen the national team’s remarkable turnaround in fortunes this season, was further frustrated after having his visa application to play club cricket in the UK rejected.
Anshuman Rath (Hong Kong) Like Mustafa, left-hander Rath is an outstanding batsman in the tier of the international game just outside Test cricket.
The 19-year-old player has been part of the county set up with Middlesex for some time, while also attending Harrow School. An offer of a professional contract to play for them has met with complications, however, because of the visa process.