Cricket Badger’s editor, James Buttler, has landed in the UAE where he will be chronicling the exploits of English counties ahead of the 2017 English cricket season. Here’s his first blog…
When I booked my flights to see cricket, sunshine and sample the joys of the United Arab Emirates I hadn’t realised a five hour stopover, confined to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, would feel like an eternity. There are only so many duty free niceties one can pretend they can afford before you end up tucked in a corner with your only purchase yet another plug adapter. And so the UAE 2017 blog begins.
I’m beginning to lose count, but I think this is my fourth pre-season spent in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and the eighth I’ve followed English counties abroad to see if their fettle is fine before the serious business begins back home in April.
This trip is a little different in that I am working the first week of my fortnight for the Emirates T20 tournament organisers, SportA, who have created quite a niche for themselves in catering for cricket teams visiting the UAE. They’ve accommodated anyone from the full England team down to schoolboy cricketers and a great time is had by all. That’s the advert over with and hopefully now I’ll be invited back.
I’m interested to see how cricket has moved on in the UAE. When I first travelled to this part of the world in 2008 and 2009 I was struck by two things. The facilities were excellent and the vast majority of the population didn’t know they were there. I remember jumping into a taxi and asking to be taken to the £30million Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium. I received a blank look and had to direct the cab myself. It was only when we got there that my driver realised that this huge sporting centre that he drove past every day was an international cricket ground. He didn’t know what that meant though.
When I returned in 2015 it was obvious that cricket in the UAE had taken big steps forward. The national team had achieved some success, the previously dusty road into the Abu Dhabi stadium had been laid with tarmac and the hard work of David East was creating a league structure largely frequented by old and promising players originating from the subcontinent.
I am looking forward to seeing what the last two years has brought.
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I should have known better. I flew through the night so I could sleep on the plane and be fresh to tackle the day. But badgers don’t sleep in transit and when the wheels hit the runway at Dubai Airport I had dosed sporadically. It was 2am in the UK, 6am in the UAE and bedtime for badgers.
It had been suggested that I grab some beers in the duty free shop as the hotel was dry and drinks in other hotel bars are around £10 a pint. My liver is safe.
The arrangement seems to be that the Emirati are happy to see people respecting their rules and customs. In return they have bars in most hotels and turn a blind eye to people like me buying a box of beers in the airport to put in the fridge in my room. Tourism is increasingly important with the finite nature of the oil out here.
That is all great until you put your box of beers on top of your suitcase as you stop to get cash for a taxi from an ATM only to hear the loud crash of Corona on concourse. As the amber nectar seeped out of the box I had visions of being surrounded in seconds by armed police. Thankfully they never showed and after nine of twelve bottles were saved I was in a cab to the Ghaya Grand in the Sports City area of Dubai. It’s my home for the next week before I relocate for the Champion County game in Abu Dhabi.
It’s been 37 degree today and I think I may melt. If I don’t my immediate focus is the Emirates T20 which this year features Birmingham Bears, Lancashire, Durham, MCC, Peshawar Zalmi and Lahore Qalandars. It’s going to be played at the ICC Academy on Thursday and Friday.
In the meantime check cricketbadger.com for interviews and tournament previews. I’m looking forward to chatting to Ian Bell, Jimmy Anderson and Paul Collingwood, among others, this week. Exciting times.
I’d wake on Monday morning to see a mixed weather report and have breakfast with Dougie Brown before preparing to meet the Peshawar Zalmi and Lahore Qalandars teams.
Come back for blog two tomorrow.
As the editor of Cricket Badger he is intent on building the website to give quality coverage of the domestic game around the world.
James was the full-time Media Manager at Yorkshire County Cricket Club between 2007 and 2010.
James is a published author and a writer/video contributor to many cricket publications.
He's unsurprisingly a complete cricket badger!