Gulf Cup Champions for the second year running

It’s been a long time coming but a change is going to come, oh yes it will.” Not quite the words of the ACC Development Manager, nevertheless certainly sentiments he’s expressing. Arabs are playing cricket in the Gulf in ever increasing numbers, and will in the years to come be challenging for places in the senior sides.

The Asian Cricket Council has made it incumbent upon all member nations to field at least three passport-holders in its U-16 competitions. Not a problem for those in Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, Malaysia, Maldives, Nepal or Thailand but a hurdle for other nations, particularly those in the Gulf. ‘Arabs just don’t play cricket’ say the cricketers who’ve brought the game over from the Commonwealth countries. And yes, for a long time they did not. But they do now, not just one or two, but groups of them. Oman has had its own Arab-only competition running alongside its one open to residents of all nationalities. And they have been the ones to win the first Gulf Cup (for Arabs only) in 2010 and have been in the finals of all three, most recently this week, when they lost to UAE in the decider at Sharjah Stadium. Last year’s final between the two sides went to a second ‘super over’ after the game initially ended in a tie before UAE pipped the Omanis.

This year’s Gulf Cup featured Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and UAE and though UAE and Oman remain at the head of the pack, Saudi Arabia is pushing hard to catch up. “Just to play in these conditions, hot and humid as it is even at night, shows tremendous commitment on the part of these native cricketers,” says ACC Development Officer for Saudi Arabia Iqbal Sikander.

“Cricket is steadily catching up with Arab nationals through the Gulf states and all they need is more exposure to hone their competitive edge. The Gulf Cup is one such opportunity for them to showcase their skills. We look forward to seeing good matches,” says Emirates Cricket Board Administrator Mazhar Khan. Kuwait captain Taher Bastaki, who admitted at the start of this year’s Gulf Cup that his team weren’t contenders, said that “football is the first game in Kuwait and we’re all passionate about it, but cricket has its own following now.”

UAE captain Mohammad Tauqir receives the Gulf Cup trophy from Oman Cricket Chairman Kanak Khimji

The fact of the matter is, if cricket is to put down roots and grow and break out of the relatively small cradle in which it currently is placed in many countries, it has to be played by, taken up by, as significant and substantial a part of the population as possible. Restricting cricket to just one or two pockets of the population prevents countries from being part of the Olympic movement, limits state funding and keeps cricket marginalised in societies. The trends at youth and senior level are clear, from Afghanistan through to Thailand teams made up of native cricketers are on the up in international competition.

A change is going to come, and it’s a good one.

(Pictures by Sharjah Cricket Council)

Filed June 22nd, 2012