Celebrity Cricket League in Dubai

Famous Bollywood stars go head to head at this annual sporting showdown

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As the popular Celebrity Cricket League gets set to arrive in the city, Benita Adesuyan talks to Suniel Shetty, actor and captain of The Mumbai Heroes, about the challenges involved in defending the championship title.

India has two great loves – Bollywood and cricket. They are both dramatic, tense and full of character so the merging of both is a match made in heaven – and with so many Indian expats in Dubai, it’s little wonder the Celebrity Cricket League has proven so popular (it’s now returning for a fourth season). Taking place on Saturday February 1, four India-based teams full of acting talent will be taking to the pitch at the Dubai Cricket Stadium. The one-day event is the third location on the league’s tour, which began on January 25 in Mumbai and culminates in the final on Sunday February 23 in Hyderabad.

Captain of the Mumbai Heroes, Suniel Shetty, who when he isn’t working on his spin-bowl is an actor, producer and director, says that even though it’s a team of actors, they are taking the cricket very seriously.

‘We are training very hard for the competition. We have a match every morning, we do warm ups and get into the nets and bat or bowl. Then we have a fielding session and a cool down. We try to spend three hours a day up to four times a week and play a practice match once a week to get ready for this.’

Shetty’s team, The Mumbai Heroes, are the current champs and have a title to protect. Their opposition are the Chennai Rhinos, Bengal Tigers and the Kerala Strikers, a combination that sees over 100 celebrities pitch up.

Shetty enjoys being the team captain and is very passionate about the sport but admits managing a team of actors comes with its challenges. ‘I have to take whoever is available,’ explains the 52-year-old star.

Everyone is working and shooting films so not everyone can train. But we have over 20 players so I still have a lot of choice in my team. I enjoy being captain. But I think I’m captain more because of my experience and seniority – not so much because I’m the most talented.’

The fourth season of the Celebrity Cricket League was launched by Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, so despite teams of actors there will be no singing and dancing on the pitch – it’s all about the sport.

Shetty is known as the ‘He-Man’ of Bollywood, so what kind of action will he be bringing to Dubai? ‘I‘ll bring a lot of aggression, speed and power. You have to be smart, think ahead and strike hard when you play the game. I’m pretty good at cricket, but the sport is all about youth and young players – I don’t have the fastest legs in the world but talent wise I’m okay. I generally like to play number four and come in as a first- change spin bowler but it all depends on availability.’

Shetty’s star-studded team has a roster that reads like film credits –Salman Khan, Bobby Deol, and Sohail Khan are just a few and Shetty is confident his team will not only score wickets but also be a success with the fans in Dubai. ‘The popularity of cricket is huge in Dubai because there’s so many people there from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, which are all cricket-playing countries. You know, when people are away from home, for them it’s a way to connect with their home countries, and enjoy the show and sport.’

The Mumbai Heroes have always won their matches in Dubai and are hoping to recreate past form this year, though Shetty admits he is concerned about the competition.

‘Yes, I’m worried! Some of the other teams have three months more training time than us, which is a big advantage. In Dubai all the teams have a huge following, even though it’s our home ground, we can’t be complacent, we want to give a good show and great cricket for the fans.’
Celebrity Cricket League starts Saturday February 1. Tickets from Dhs50. Dubai International Cricket Stadium, Dubai Sports City www.ccl.in (04 386 3844). Follow the rest of the league matches on TV channels Colours and Rishtey.

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