England test for city teenagers

A talented group of youngsters from the Zayed Cricket Academy leave for England to participate in the Arabian Cricket Festival Under 13 tournament.

ABU DHABI // A talented group of youngsters from the Zayed Cricket Academy left for England this morning to participate in the Arabian Cricket Festival Under 13 tournament. The 16-strong U13 squad, coached by Qazi Ayub and Imran Zia, will visit Lord's, the famous London cricket venue, tomorrow before beginning the 40-over side tournament on Monday with a game against Guernsey. They will play matches against teams from Guernsey, Jersey, Dorset, Surrey and Holland. The U13 team were runner-up in last year's tournament, winning three matches and losing only to hosts Sussex, the eventual champions.

The five-day tournament, which will see matches played at Blackstone - the home of Sussex's Cricket Club's Centre of Excellent - and Hurstpierpoint College - is a continuation of the link between Zayed Cricket Academy and Sussex. The English County Championship side have sent a junior academy side to the capital in February for the past two years while the first XI have been using the UAE as a base for their pre-season camp since 2007.

Indeed, Sussex have been so accommodating that the hosts have withdrawn from the tournament to make room for the team from the capital. Zayed Cricket Academy were unable to commit to sending a team due to the timing of Ramadan and only recently confirmed their participation. In a further development of the relationship between Sussex and Zayed Cricket Academy, two players will travel with the U13 team and will spend the week training with Sussex's Academy team and shadowing the first XI team, which include England's Michael Yardy, Ed Joyce, West Indies' Corey Collymore and Yasir Arafat.

Dan D'Souza and Moaaz Qazi are the first players from the Zayed Cricket Academy to benefit from the arrangement. "The scholarship from the English county club is unique and the first of its kind," Ayub, the head coach of the Zayed Cricket Academy, said. "Sussex County Cricket Club have established strong relationship through the regular visits to Abu Dhabi, using the Zayed Stadium as their pre-season camp for the senior team as well as for the academy."

The two players hand-picked for the scholarship both have the potential to play for the national age group teams. D'Souza, 16, is an 11th grade student from Choueifat International School and was the academy's youth player of the year in 2007. Moaaz, a 14-year-old who attends Cambridge High School, was player of the tournament in last year's Arabian Cricket Festival, scoring 162 runs and picking up 12 wickets in four games.

Next off the production line at the Zayed Academy could be Mohammed Riyan. The 11-year-old is the smallest member of the U13 squad and the coach has high hopes for the opening batsman. "He is an outstanding talent," said Ayub. "He has got the right attitude and confidence to play strokes all around the wicket. He may be small in stature but he is a player with a big heart, and has to just wait for him to grow physically and peak gradually."

Riyan, who joined the academy when it was officially inaugurated in December 2005, has already demonstrated his talent by winning the player of the academy award for the juniors in 2007. He also played a key role in Sherwood emerging as the champion team in the inaugural Lifebuoy Abu Dhabi inter-school cricket tournament last season. Riyan is one of four survivors from the team who travelled to England last year. Bilal Passela, a top-order batsman and a useful off spinner, Mafaz bin Ahsan, a medium pace bowler and Amri Mohideen are the others.

"This tournament is now an annual fixture in the academy's calendar of events," Ayub added. "We have established a strong partnership with Sussex and their academy, and hope this relationship will continue to grow." The Zayed Cricket Academy is thriving but the lack of interest from young Emiratis is hindering the progress of the national youth teams. The UAE did not have a team at the U15 Asian Championship in Nepal in March because the Emirates Cricket Board failed to attract the required three Emirati passport holders.

"The abstention of Emiratis in cricket is denying young expatriate players who are eligible to play for the UAE in the age group tournaments, but I am still hopeful, they will eventually get attracted, because it is a short cut for them to play for their country," Ayub said. Since the academy began in 2005, Syed Ammar, a wicketkeeper, Zubin Ghaira, a medium pacer, and Sohaib Nasir, a batsman, have gone on to play for the UAE U15 in the Asian Championships.

Ayub says positive developments have been made following the introduction of inter-school cricket in the capital and believes some of the Emirati youngsters in the international schools may be drawn to the game because of its popularity. apassela@thenational.ae