It’s the pub quiz question that would leave even the most enthusiastic of sports fans stumped. While many would lead with Lord’s or Australia’s iconic WACA when asked where the headquarters of cricket can be found, the answer is a little closer to home.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) moved from England to Dubai more than a decade ago, with the state-of-the-art ICC Academy opening in 2010.
Will Kitchen, who is helping to nurture the next generation of talent as the ICC Academy Manager and UAE Cricket High Performance chief, tells Time Out Dubai that the game’s stronghold here is quietly growing. With an army of talented coaches and international stars from all corners of the globe regularly flying in to make use of the world-class facilities, Kitchen is overseeing a cricketing revolution in the UAE.
“The ICC being based here is Dubai’s best kept secret,” he says. “Everyone knows that Fifa is run from Zürich, but we have the great and good of the cricket world making decisions here. It’s a unique thing and makes us the centre of the cricketing landscape. It’s a big fillip for the region.”
It’s no surprise that everyone from schoolboy cricketers through to The Little Master, Sachin Tendulkar, have made use of the impressive venue in the heart of Dubai Sports City.
The Academy boasts 38 natural practise pitches replicating playing conditions in Australia, England and India, as well as two full-size floodlit cricket ovals, hi-tech Hawk-Eye tracking and modern video analysis technology. There is also a plush performance gym and two spacious dressing rooms with massage tables and ice baths.
More than 1,000 children hone their skills at the academy each week. It is not just an elite proving ground either, as hundreds of club cricketers and corporate teams can take part in tournaments, too.
Kitchen adds: “We have kids starting at the age of three with our Cubs teams while the Warriors team takes kids from six to 18. The best players will join training development programmes. There is a lot of overlap in the strategies we have in place.”
He continues: “We have international teams training and playing here, too. The Australian national team decided to train here ahead of its series with India, and last year we had 47 different professional teams visiting. There is nowhere else in the world you will find that level of elite players.”
It is an ambitious project, but one that is clearly working out for the team.
“This is probably the best place of its kind on Earth,” Kitchen adds proudly. “We have a world-class venue with experienced coaches, sports scientists, sports medics all under one roof. It is a great advantage for the UAE national team. There is only one ICC Academy – and we have it here in Dubai.”
The latest stage of the country’s cricketing progression came when central contracts were awarded to 12 players last year – starting the shift from part-time playing to a fully-blown professional era.
“We are trying to accelerate the team’s improvement,” says Kitchen. “The central contracts will take the UAE on a journey from being part-time cricketers to part of a professional, international side.
“Of all the sporting teams in the UAE, the cricket side has achieved the most, they have reached World Cups and are well ranked, but the success has received the least recognition.”
Kitchen says it is his mission to broaden the sport’s appeal in the UAE – and make sure the secret is out on the sport’s pivotal position in the region.
Kitchen adds: “It’s up to us the sell the merits of the game. At the moment, the people who use our facilities are almost exclusively expats. We’re doing community projects to get more Emiratis playing. We also have big school programmes to help get kids involved in the game who may not be able to make it down to the academy. It’s all about getting more people involved.”
So if you want to be part of this cricketing revolution, oil your bat, dust off those pads and head down to Sports City…
ICC Cricket Academy, Dubai Sports City, www.iccacademy.net (04 448 1355).
Three cricket clubs to join
Dubai’s oldest club
Founded in 1969, the club’s grounds were first adjacent to Dubai Exiles’ rugby ground on Al Khail Road. They moved to the ICC Academy in 2013 and have seen a resurgence in recent years. It’s regarded as one of Dubai’s friendliest clubs.
A community team
A popular club that aims to provide cricket for the wider community, giving equal opportunities to all who want to play regardless of age, religion or ability. It runs a number of teams covering several age groups.
A popular and thoroughly laid-back club whose name stands for Waste Of Money, Brains And Time. Along with entering and running several leagues, the Wombats go on international tours three times a year.