A huge portion of Dubai’s expat population is hooked on cricket – the recent Jazz Cup test matches and one-day internationals between Pakistan and England proved as much. Every passing encounter between citizens of these two nations boiled down to the same question: ‘You like cricket?’ – admittedly it nearly always does anyway, but more so than ever during January and February.
If you didn’t manage to get your fix during the Cup, all is not lost, because from Tuesday March 13 to Saturday March 24, the ICC World Twenty20 2012 Qualifier will be staged in the UAE, across venues in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai, where the main bulk of the action will take place – including the final qualifying matches.
‘It’s the newest and shortest version of the sport, matches are over in three or so hours,’ says Tim Anderson, 33-year-old global development manager at the International Cricket Council. He explains there’s plenty to watch during the 12-day event: ‘There are two games a day at every venue, and the teams playing are the best in the world outside the top 10 full members [the main cricket-playing countries]. Anyone who has an interest in cricket would be keen to see people playing from far-flung places such as Papa New Guinea, Uganda, Ireland, Afghanistan – and if you’re new to cricket this is a chance to get involved.’
The UAE’s cricket fans will have the chance to see some of the leading names outside of the Test playing world this month – and all without spending a fil, as entry to every match throughout the qualifier is free. ‘We had the same event here two years ago, but the number of teams has changed since then. That was an eight-team competition, this is a 16-team competition so it’s much bigger,’ Anderson explains. The teams taking part are divided into two groups, with Afghanistan, Netherlands, Canada, Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong, Bermuda, Denmark and Nepal forming Group A and Ireland, Kenya, Scotland, Namibia, Uganda, Oman, Italy and the USA in Group B.
If you were hoping to support some local talent, however, you will be disappointed, as the UAE surprisingly failed to qualify for this tournament after a disappointing performance at the Asia qualifying event last year.
Competition format The sides that top the two groups will feature in the first qualifying final at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Thursday March 22 with the winner securing automatic qualification to the main event.
Meanwhile, the sides that finish second and third in the two groups will play cross-over matches. The two winners of those matches will progress to the preliminary final, to be played on Friday March 23 at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.
The second qualifying final will take place on the morning of Saturday March 24 at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium between the loser of the first qualifying final and the winner of the preliminary final, with the winner progressing through to the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka from Tuesday September 18. The winner will be put in a group with Australia and the West Indies. The runner-up will then face India and England.
The favourites Ireland and Afghanistan qualified for the ICC World Twenty20 the last time the global qualifier was held in the UAE, back in 2010, and they will be amongst the favourites again this time. Expect strong competition from the likes of Canada and the Netherlands, who appeared at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, while other contenders are likely to include the likes of Kenya, Namibia and Scotland. ‘There’s also a very big rivalry between Scotland and Ireland, so any of those games will be very exciting,’ Anderson adds. Must-watch matches In the group stages, expect a fantastic crowd at Sharjah for the match between Afghanistan and Nepal (Friday March 16), while the games between Afghanistan-Netherlands (Wednesday March 14) and Ireland-Scotland (Sunday March 18) should also be exciting. The finals weekend, between Thursday March 22 and Saturday 24, is also set to see some thrilling matches, with large crowds expected following the success of the 2010 event, which had more than 6,000 fans in attendance for key games – namely the finals.
Players to watch One of the best known names on show will be Ireland’s Kevin O’Brien, who hit a stunning 50-ball hundred against England at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, to help record one of the biggest shocks in cricket history. The Afghan trio of Hamid Hassan (subject to fitness), Mohammad Nabi and Mohammad Shahzad are all names to watch out for, while other notable players include the likes of Ashes 2005 winner Geraint Jones, who will represent Papua New Guinea, and David Hemp, who plays for Bermuda. Entry to all matches at the ICC World Twenty20 2012 qualifier is free, with matches taking place at Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah Cricket Stadium and the Global Cricket Academy and Dubai Sports City Stadium in Dubai. Visit www.icc-cricket.com for full fixtures. You can also watch live streaming of the final three days of the event at www.espnstar.com/live.