ICC hopes to make it easier for UAE cricketers to play in UK as overseas professionals

Will Glenwright, head of global development at cricket's governing body, talks about how to help give players from non-Test nations exposure to playing conditions they are unused to.

Dubai, 07, February, 2017:  Rohan Mustafa of UAE X1 plays a shot during the practice match  against Islamabad United at the ICC Academy   in Dubai . ( Satish Kumar / The National ) 
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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.

Former Australia wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist spent some time playing cricket in the UK early in his life. Getty Images
Former Australia wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist spent some time playing cricket in the UK early in his life. Getty Images

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.

Yodhin Punja is one of the UAE's more promising cricketers. Sarah Dea / The National
Yodhin Punja is one of the UAE's more promising cricketers. Sarah Dea / The National

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.

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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.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, August 9, 2017:    William Glenwright, head of global development for the International Cricket Council, ICC, speaks during an interview at their headquarters in the Sports City area of Dubai on August 9, 2017. Christopher Pike / The National

Reporter: Paul Radley
Section: Sport
William Glenwright, head of the ICC's global development, is the man with a plan. Christopher Pike / The National

“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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Overseas conundrum

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.

PROVIDENCE, GUYANA - AUGUST 17: In this handout image provided by CPL T20, Rashid Khan (L) of Guyana Amazon Warriors celebrates the dismissal of Jonathan Foo (R) of Jamaica Tallawahs during Match 15 of the 2017 Hero Caribbean Premier League between Guyana Amazon Warriors and Jamaica Tallawahs at Guyana National Stadium on August 17, 2017 in Providence, Guyana. (Photo by Randy Brooks - CPL T20 via Getty Images)
Afghanistan's Rashid Khan, left, in action for Guyana Amazon Warriors, is the one to watch in the future. Randy Brooks / Getty Images

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.