Ramadan cricket in Dubai

One of the UAE's most venerable sporting traditions concludes as Insportz welcomes back its popular Ramadan cricket tournament.

As Dubai’s nightspots shut down for Ramadan, there’s a sporting sensation – now in its fourth year – that remains one of the liveliest nights out you can hope for in the month ahead.

Held at Insportz on the edge of Al Quoz, the Ramadan Cricket Tournament attracts 72 teams from all communities and walks of life to compete in four divisions of so-called Action Cricket. Menino Po, manager at Insportz, tells us it’s the perfect game for this time of year. ‘In Ramadan this sport is particularly interesting. We organise games during the night because throughout the day nothing is really happening here. So many people turn up to watch, some bring Iftar and it’s very social. The teams have supporters along with them and we get people yelling and cheering. There’s this great sporting atmosphere.’

This indoor version of cricket eschews the meticulous five-day test in favour of a lightening fast hour-and-a-half version of the game. Teams of eight men (rather than the standard 11) bowl and bat for four overs.

The action is heightened by using a slightly different, and quicker, scoring system. While batsmen accrue runs in the usual manner, when one is caught, bowled or run out, instead of losing their wicket, they lose runs. This helps to build the pace of the game to a breakneck speed.

Po’s description of this raucous cricket marathon (with sometimes five different games happening) isn’t exaggerated. One team has even developed a reputation for invincibility. ‘We have the best records and have been winning all the leagues for the past seven years,’ says Saqib Nazir, captain of the now legendary Danube Lions. Danube Lions’ collective skills as all-rounders on the field are the key to their continued success. ‘You need to be able to do everything on these teams,’ Nazir tells us.

Even Po seems conscious of the Danube Lions’ now fearsome reputation. ‘They’ve been ruling indoor cricket since it started here,’ he acknowledges. ‘Whatever we organise they so often come out on top.’

Possibly to temper this dominance, Insportz has introduced a D division to this year’s event, aimed at getting newcomers through and mixing up the higher divisions in future competitions. The response has been formidable, and we’re told there’s been a surge of new British, South African and Dutch teams into the divisions.

But we do sense rumblings of an emerging contender for the top of the A division. A team known ominously as ‘Petromann’ actually managed to snare the Lions at a recent Twenty20 game. Menino hinted that this new faction might be poised to topple the Lions’ dominance in this year’s tournament. But is Nazir perturbed? ‘They’ve been coming up very well in the last six months. But the Twenty20 was a close game. I didn’t have all my players, two were injured and having trouble walking.’ Sounds to us like the seeds of rivalry.

But despite the high level of competition, this tournament continues to represent something very local here in Dubai. Teams tend to be formed of friends, colleagues and expat fraternities and this factor contributes to the atmosphere. And no doubt this is what keeps the teams and fans piling in every year.

Ramadan and sport

Fasting at Ramadan can be a problem for Muslim sportsmen and women. Abstaining from food and, most importantly, water makes any sort of vigorous exercise near impossible during daylight hours – particularly in a hot climate. But this doesn’t mean that the sports world shuts down here in Dubai.

As Walid Nabil of the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding tells us, volleyball surges in popularity at this time. ‘I’m more of a football player, but around this time I really get into volleyball. After Tarawweh [final daily prayer of the evening], we head down to the beach and there are always quite a lot of games going on.’ Nabil says that because volleyball involves less running around and is easily played after breaking the fast when water is available, it is a popular choice.

It is also sensible to keep up general exercise (walking, mild exertion, etc.), but those wanting to do anything more strenuous should wait until they’ve broken fast.

We’re told there’s nothing in the scriptures forbidding sport during Ramadan. Pakistani batsman Mohammed Yousuf pulled out of the (now postponed) Champions Trophy which was set to fall in Ramadan, to concentrate on prayer and his religion at this time, but Muslims can make the choice to break the fast during daylight hours if travelling or duty to their profession demands it, with the day made up for at the end of Ramadan.

Insportz (04 347 5833), Al Quoz. Games are held every night except Sunday from 9pm. Entrance is free. Until October 13

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