Mathew Potts and Ben Stokes react during a match. File
Mohmmad Abdullah, Senior Sports Reporter
Ben Stokes’ accession to the England’s Test captaincy and the debut of Mathew Potts added a new chapter to the legacy of the domestic cricket of the UAE.
Several thoughts would come across the mind of anyone reading this. Anybody would think what might be the possible connection between the UAE’s domestic cricket with the England’s Test team.
But there is a very strong connection, which also shows the level of the competition in cricket at the grass root in the UAE. It shows how cricket has evolved over the period of time.
Both Stokes and Potts have played in the Gulf Cup -- one of the most prestigious and oldest cricketing tournaments in the itinerary of the UAE’s domestic cricket.
Both the players have featured in the erstwhile editions of the Gulf Cup, when touring with Durham Cricket County’s academy team. The Gulf Cup is organized by Young Talent Cricket Academy (YTCA) of Shehzad Altaf.
It is not only Stokes and Potts but other Durham players like Mark Wood, Scott Borthwick and Paul David Collingwood are the other few names who plied their trade at the Gulf Cup before going on to play for England.
As per the mutual understanding between both the academies, every year both the teams visit each other to play in their domestic tournaments.
These tour give international exposure to the aspiring cricketers. They get a feel of what is it like to play on a foreign land in the conditions which are completely different from that of the one they have been used to.
The climate of both the countries are entirely different from each other, which also has bearing on many factors such as pitches, the dew factor and wet outfield.
The pitches and the conditions in England are more conducive for swing bowlers while UAE turf are batting paradise and help spinners as they wear out.
These tours are the brain child of Altaf, who himself was an international cricketer and represented the UAE at the 1996 World Cup.
After taking an early retirement from the international cricket due to injury, Altaf turned to the coaching job. Despite all his experience, he did not opt to coach a professional team but decided to set up the first cricket academy of the country.
Having played for Durham during his hey days, Altaf had connections in the county team and he exploited them to give his pupils international exposure by touring UK once in a year and calling them to play in his tournament.
Because of these tours, young players, who are aspiring to make it big one day, get to compete with the best in the game in their age category.
Every time a Durham player wears a Test cap, he is probably among one of the players who have graced the Gulf Cup in the UAE.
Durham county cricket team can be called breeding ground for England cricket. When Durham was included in the country cricket to develop the game in the northern England, little did anyone know that would become country’s most prolific production line for the national team.
The county has been churning out international cricketers for the England national team despite all problem that a new team faces. They are relatively new in the tournament which boasts of a sesquicentennial history.
Only Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire have given more cricketers to England than Durham since the 2005 Ashes series. A total of ten Durham players have played for England since 2005, which means that almost all of them at some point of time have played in the Gulf Cup.
On the other hand, YTCA has churned out the most international cricketers for the UAE national team. Players like Rameez Shehzad, Chirag Suri, Rahul Bhatia, Fahad Nawaz, Ansh Tondon, Syed Haider Wasi Shah and captain Ahmed Raza all have learnt the tricks of the trade under the watchful eyes of Altaf.
Altaf, who started the YTCA with a humble beginning, owns three grounds – MCC 1, MCC 2 and Oval -- in Ajman. A total of around 3000 domestic matches are played every year on these three grounds combined together. Which boils down to 1000 matches on each ground per year, roughly 90 games a month and three every day.
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