Gulf workers who are obsessed with cricket and untouched by football fever

hvac by fully4world


Dubai: It’s 7:00am in Dubai, and as the sun peeks out over the heights, the image reveals a moving scene below: some 200 people, mostly men, use bats and scored tennis balls in a weekly street cricket festival.

About a dozen casual games take place in a parking lot near the city’s financial district, where subway trains slide across an overpass and police watch from a parked SUV, wary of players bringing alcohol or misbehaving.

Every weekend, games like these are played on reserve grounds across the Gulf region, which is home to millions of migrant workers and cricket-loving South Asian expatriates.

Even while the Gulf states, and specifically Qatar, are preparing to host the first FIFA World Cup on Arab soil, another tournament dominated the discussion among players in Dubai: the Twenty20 Cricket World Cup, which was unfolding in Australia.

Faisal, a 35-year-old Pakistani who drives for a living, watched the tournament with such passion that he nearly crashed during India’s tense win over Pakistan in October.

“I was about to have an accident – I was watching my phone, the India-Pakistan match,” he said. “We really love cricket.”

There is no doubt what sport is the main one among migrant workers in the Gulf, whose treatment has been in the spotlight in the build-up to the World Cup in Qatar.

Street cricket can often be seen in Dubai, and it is more popular than football.

This is a result of the huge numbers of South Asians in the region, including an estimated 3.5 million Indians in the UAE.

They make up about a third of the population, outnumbering the indigenous population of about a million. Indian expat Dinesh Palani, 49, said: “We keep watching the scores while we’re playing cricket. While we’re working, while we’re in the bathroom or wherever, we follow the cricket.”

As the November morning heats up, more players arrive, clutching paper cups of karak tea, a gulf variety, and bags of bats and plastic as they exit the cars.

A children’s game is taking place in one corner of the parking lot, while in another, an all-female team is having a training session.

Tennis balls wrapped in tape — to make them less bouncy, which better replicate leather cricket balls for bowling and batting — hurtle across the tarmac, hit curbs and roll under parked cars.

Palani, who works in real estate, said he has played street cricket in Dubai since 1995. He runs a team, the D-Boys, which has 30 roster players. He said that for many workers, often in boring or stressful jobs, cricket is an important outlet.

“A lot of us are among blue and white collar workers,” Blaney said.

“So they have to go through a lot of things in a week. They hear a lot of things from the bosses and managers,” he added.

“But this is the only place we go out. No one is there to run us. We are our bosses.”

Amrin Vadsaria, 22, who grew up in New Zealand and plays for the women’s team, says India’s Virat Kohli is her favorite player. She cannot name any football player.

“I grew up outside India, and I was never interested in cricket. But I think (playing street cricket) made me want to pursue cricket more.”

“And because it’s such a big thing in my country, India, I think it brought me closer to my culture.”

Players and their games have a peripatetic history, moving from place to place as Dubai’s rapid development turns makeshift cricket pitches into tower blocks and shopping malls.

Meanwhile, the UAE has become a fixture in professional cricket, hosting Pakistan’s home matches for ten years after the 2009 attack on a Sri Lankan team in Lahore.


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