Indoor Cricket World Cup is spreading its roots and popularity in the UAE

Denzil Pinto 11/09/2017
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Cricket as you may not have seen it before.

When England play West Indies in the lone Twenty20 match in Durham on Saturday, more than 3,000 miles away, the Indoor Cricket World Cup will get under way in Dubai.

Not only will the UAE be hosting the tournament for the first time, it will also be the first Indoor World Cup to be staged in the Middle East in its 22-year history.

Although it’s not played by professionals, the fact that it’s been running for more than two decades speaks volumes of how the format has grown.

This year’s edition at InSportz Club will see more than 400 players as hosts UAE, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, England, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, who have won every global title, vie for glory in the men’s, women’s, Under-21 men’s and U-21 women’s categories between September 16-23.

It might not be as high-profile as the ICC World Cup or the World Twenty20, but those numbers show there is a growing market in this version of the game.

The inaugural World Cup in England was held in 1995, but it was way back in the 1970s when the game really took off on the other side of the world in Perth.

Played inside nets and with different methods of scoring runs in a 16-over-a-side match, the fast-paced action game appealed to not just players, but spectators.

Even the likes of Sir Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd and Desmond Haynes gave it the thumbs up when the great West Indies side played an exhibition match against Western Australia before the first Test during their 1984-85 tour to Australia.

So, it was no surprise to see several Test-nation playing countries catch the indoor cricket buzz with regular fixtures, varying from club level to international series’ arranged.

With the World Cup hosted every two to three years from 1995 and the format established in places like England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, a new chapter was marked in 2004 when the World Indoor Cricket Federation (WICF) was launched.

With the platform already there, their mission is to continue promoting the game and take it to the next level.

Their calendar now includes the Tri-Nations Cup, Master World Series’ and Test series with Australia, England, South Africa, New Zealand, India, Singapore, Wales, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and the UAE all members.

As members, one of their roles is to hold regular leagues every season which help create awareness for people to take up the game.

For instance, in England there are six recognised indoor centres and approximately 4,000 playing, while there’s one international standard pitch and around 400 players in Singapore. Yet, those statistics dwarf the 186,000 registered cricketers who play in the 90 centres in Australia.

That’s no surprise considering that indoor cricket is supported by Cricket Australia, the country’s governing body for cricket. Malaysia Cricket Association have also followed in their footsteps and WICF is hopeful more countries will follow suit.

Yet, despite having 10 members on their books, WICF doesn’t want to stop there.
They have big ambitions in making the game even bigger than it is. So instead of going back to the likes of Australia, New Zealand, England and Sri Lanka, which have all hosted a World Cup, WICF wanted to tap into a new market and identified the UAE as the perfect fit.

“Indoor cricket is now a very competitive sport and there are a lot of international competitions happening now,” Greg Donnelly, president of the WICF told Sport360°. “It’s expanding with South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand playing the game and having good numbers on their books.

“While we have hosted the World Cup in those nations, we want to create awareness and that’s why we are playing in the UAE now.

“We want to present the game in the UAE and hopefully look into other countries in the possibility of hosting a tournament.”

By awarding the hosting rights to the UAE, it could well open the doors for the game to take its biggest step yet.

With the ICC based in Dubai, the WIFC have the perfect opportunity to impress their outdoor counterparts. WICF’s ultimate goal is to see it played at either the Commonwealth or Olympic Games. Previously, the ICC have explored the possibility of including the outdoor game in one of the events but there has been no real progress.

Yet, Donnelly believes the indoor game ticks all the boxes for it to be a success, but knows the ICC’s support would be a massive boost for it to be considered on future rosters.

Invitations have been sent to the ICC to attend the tournament and Donnelly is hopeful they will be impressed.

“We understand it’s baby steps and it can be a long process,” he said. “We are looking to develop our interest with the ICC and build up in that area. I’m more confident if they come on board that we’ll be in a much stronger position to possibly have it in the Commonwealth Games or an Olympic Games.”

When the ICC officials do visit, they, as well as the others at InSportz Club, will notice a familiar face in action.

With plenty of Test, ODI and T20 experience under his belt, New Zealand all-rounder Jesse Ryder (left) has shifted his focus to the indoor game for a chance to lead the Black Caps to World Cup glory.

Having a figure of Ryder’s profile, a cricketer who has played in the IPL, is further evidence that the indoor game is being taken seriously for even ex-internationals.

Sandeep Patil, a 1983 World Cup winner, will also be in Dubai this week as the brand ambassador for the Indian cricket team.

“New Zealand and Australia have a very rich history in producing very good players,” added Donnelly. “There’s a lot more cross-over and with the advent of T20 success, people can see the synergies of playing indoor cricket.

“The days are gone where the outdoor game will have a negative impact on the indoor game, that holds no water. If anything, I can say indoor cricket will help your outdoor skills particularly at a young age.”

Robert Sheary has been associated with the game since he was 10 and will be playing in his fourth World Cup for New Zealand.

“Indoor cricket has come a long way,” he said. “There has been a great growth since 2007 and not just the men’s competitions but in other age groups and World Cup and Masters series, which is good for the game.”

“The fast action, thrill and heat of the competition was something I was hooked when starting.”
For the UAE, who are fielding sides in the men’s and women’s categories, they have their work cut out to stand top of their class.

But, Andrew Russell, national development manager of the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB), believes the World Cup can have a big effect on the UAE.

“I think it’s more about awareness more than anything,” he said. “It puts the sport on a lot of radars where people who will be watching it, will want to try out the game, which we hope will be the case.”

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du La Liga HPC's teen talents show plenty of game in Spain

Chris Bailey 14/08/2017
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Take extremely talented kids in the UAE, get them working with top-of-the-range coaches in state-of-the-art facilities, and then give them the chance-of-a-lifetime scouting camp in Spain – that’s the process behind du LaLiga High Performance Centre.

Based on the sun-kissed south coast in Puerto Banus, near Marbella,  the band of 33 prospects are hoping that LaLiga sides will take a shine to their skills.

The objective of the three-week tour is to secure as many trials as possible for the teenagers, who hail from Bolivia, South Africa and almost everywhere in between but all call the Emirates their home.

They have already registered successes over Cadiz, and most notably LaLiga heavyweights Sevilla – both Under-18 and Under-16 sides put a club that developed Real Madrid and Spain star Sergio Ramos to the sword.

du LaLiga HPC Tour map

It was quite a time to perform as a Barcelona scout was present on the day, while one player already has a post-tour trial lined up for Cadiz after impressing against the second division side.

The initial success is indicative of just how far UAE grassroots football has come – from there not even being a nationwide, or even an Emirate-wide, teenage football competition of note from the establishment of the National School League and now du potentially placing a youngster at La Masia

The news too is music to the ears of Hussein Murad, the president of sports marketing company Inspiratus and mastermind behind the du LaLiga HPC concept.

“The idea started through the experiences of my kids – my daughter is a goalkeeper and my son also plays,” Murad explains. “There was nothing to do at the weekend, no official football.

“So we started in 2013 and came up with the Dubai Schools Cup to create an official tournament for schools or for youth. It was a huge success because they were starving for it, there was nothing, ‘thank you for coming up with an idea like that’.

“We also learned something from the first two years though. Whoever reaches 16 years old couldn’t participate any more, there was nothing for them to progress. And we did a study –after 15 years old, more than 70 per cent of kids leave sports and especially football.”

From that realisation the scouting platform was born, taking the very best kids who participated in the UAE Schools Cup and a new UAE Streets Cup and opening the kind of doors that barely seemed fathomable a short while ago.

Murad first got lead sponsor du on board and with the resources secured to give the kids the best possible chance, LaLiga stepped in to provide the Spanish flair.

On their recommendation UEFA Pro-licenced coaches in Rafael Gil – one-time head coach of Malaga – and his prodigy Enrique Gonzalez were installed full-time in Dubai, where The Sevens Stadium is available to du LaLiga HPC 11 months a year.

LaLiga have also ensured access to two pristine pitches a day at Marbella Football Centre, a venue so well-regarded that the likes of Bayern Munich have used the facilities in the past.

“We wanted the best for the programme because LaLiga is the best league in the world,” says former Real Madrid and Malaga defender Fernando Sanz, now LaLiga’s managing director for the Middle East and North Africa. “We have the best players, coaches and we sent them to Dubai like Rafa, who coached in the first division.

“It’s not just for them to play in LaLiga – any professional league we are happy to develop these kids. Dubai has a lot of people from the other part of the world, and you see this with the players on this tour.  Our league is global as well so it makes sense for us.”

On the move: Under-16s player Abhinav John.

On the move: Under-16s player Abhinav John.

All this and the kids don’t even pay a penny. So where’s the catch?

Ultimately, nothing comes for free in this world but as it turns out, du LaLiga HPC is a rather small price to pay. The players have all signed an agreement whereby the company essentially represents them in their future careers.

Part of that may manifest in sell-on fees should their first club go on to sell them, though Murad insists that in many cases education comes first rather than trying to sell each player a pipedream.

“Many of the kids don’t want to go professional at 18, they want to study,” he adds. “That’s why we have 60 colleges in the US that gives them a full scholarship if they are very good academically.

“There’s nothing in it for us, it actually costs us money to send him there back and forth. But you take him to continue his football at a high level while he’s earning a degree.

“So really, we are changing their lives. We aren’t really thinking about making money out of professional kids, because this is really like hitting the jackpot.

“They are very good kids and they have gratitude too – but I’m not just betting on people making it big time.”

Adham Bayoumi is one player whose brains match his football skills – the 15-year-old is launching his own fashion line, Finesse Dubai, next month and recently took an entrepreneur course at Brown University.

“I have high hopes to become a professional, and my dream is to be playing in a top team – a team in the top five leagues in Europe,” said the attacker.

“If that doesn’t work out, we have different universities in mind like Berkeley, UCLA, Stanford if I’m crazy smart.

“They are all very creative universities and a lot of start-ups start there. We say if I can’t play professional football, why not buy a professional club when I’m older!”

Ahmed El Yamani is one football success story already, with the 16-year-old Palestinian midfielder wanted by Malaga, Villareal and Valencia on a full-time basis when he turns 18.

The La Liga Academy also launches in the UAE next month, further opening the pathways for would-be professionals.

“I wasn’t expecting this growth – it is a movement,” admits Murad. It remains to be seen whether any players from this year’s crop will be making the permanent move to Spain.

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Savannah Marshall leads exciting new era for women’s boxing

Alam Khan 7/08/2017
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Savannah Marshall (l) fights Sweden’s Anna Laurell Nash during last year’s Rio Olympics.

While all eyes will be on Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on August 26 for the richest fight in history, there’s one person on the bill for whom this is no gimmick.

For Savannah Marshall, there will be focus amid the folly, hope rather than hype as she begins her journey as a professional and part of an exciting new era in women’s boxing.  Having signed a four-year deal with Mayweather Promotions, it will be a significant step in the career of the 26-year-old former amateur world champion.

So too for female fighters the world over as it is showcased to an expected global audience of millions, eager to see Mayweather don the gloves once more for the bout with UFC hero McGregor.

“I still can’t believe it and it won’t hit me until I’m there,” Marshall tells Sport360°. “Part of the Money Team, me? On the bill of the Mayweather-McGregor fight, how amazing is that?

“When they said they wanted to sign me and I thought ‘Oh my God’. It’s what dreams are made of. And it shows how women’s boxing is becoming bigger.”

It has long been an untapped market, a fact not lost on Mayweather as he builds his promotion empire following retirement, also signing American junior middleweight LaTondria Jones.

Rival promoters, such as Lou DiBella, Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy team and British pair Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren have also snapped up the best female talent as television companies have shown greater interest following the success of women in MMA and UFC. With respect, there is now the potential for profit.

Savannah Marshall in action during Rio 2016.

Savannah Marshall has emerged as one of the stars of British pro boxing.

It has been a long time coming after past barriers. With its origins dating back to 1720, women’s boxing was a displayed event at the 1904 St Louis Olympics, but only the men competed.

It was banned in Britain in 1880 and there were mainly exhibitions until the 1970s when several US states allowed women to box and approved bouts with more than four rounds.

There were more battles out of the ring amid the struggle for acceptance as well as recognition and reward, until 1996 when Christy Martin took on Deirdre Gogarty on the undercard of Mike Tyson’s WBC heavyweight title fight with Frank Bruno in Las Vegas.

Bloody and brutal, the featherweight clash defied stereotypes and gender bias and women’s professional boxing was formally accepted in the States.

Martin, though, did not want to be the flag-bearer of the sport that Barbara Buttrick – the first woman to fight on national television in 1954 – once was. But others were willing to push the sport forward, including German Regina Halmich, who gave up her job as a lawyer’s clerk to fight and grow its popularity in Europe, along with Dutch legend Lucia Rijker.

It will be as big as men’s boxing, I believe that. Within 5-10 years, that timeframe – Peter Fury.

“It will be as big as men’s boxing, I believe that. Within 5-10 years, that timeframe” – Fury.

So too Mia St John and the daughters of icons Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, Laila Ali and Jackie Frazier-Lyde, who showed ability as well as ambition. Allowing women’s boxing into the 2012 Olympics proved a momentous occasion, helping to generate global interest, encouraging activity among the youth, spawning heroes – like Indian Mary Kom who won a bronze medal – and new superstars such as Claressa Shields.

“The Olympics definitely helped show the talent, didn’t half give women’s boxing a boost,” says Marshall. “I think even more girls are going to come through because of that and what’s going on now.”

American Shields made history with gold in 2012 and 2016. Beaten just once as an amateur, by Marshall of all people, the 22-year-old – known as T-Rex – turned professional last November and is tipped to transform the female fight scene with more monstrous displays after claiming the IBF and WBC super-middleweight title from German Nikki Adler with a fifth-round stoppage last Saturday.

It was top billing as part of the ShoBox series and in only her second professional fight in March, Shields became the first woman to headline a premium cable boxing card when she beat Szilvia Szabados in Detroit on the Showtime channel. Texan Marlen Esparza then became the first woman to appear on a televised portion of an ESPN boxing card and has been signed by De La Hoya, who is also trying to add Shields to his stable.

Heather Hardy, 35, has been another influential figure, considered revolutionary, as she signed a long-term deal with DiBella Entertainment and has the opportunity to compete in MMA as well. WBO featherweight champion Amanda Serrano and Shelly Vincent are also on DiBella’s books and he has hailed them as “trail blazers”.

Nicola Adams.

Olympic boxing legend Nicola Adams turned pro earlier this year.

Across the pond, Olympic gold medallist Katie Taylor turned pro with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing stable after a 13-year amateur career, while Britain’s two-time Olympian Nicola Adams is under the banner of Frank Warren Promotions and working with Andre Ward’s trainer Virgil Hunter.

There has clearly been talent, but television has always been integral to any major success as DiBella has claimed: “While male fighters are going after the $50,000, $150,000 or $1 million payday, those don’t exist for women because television has been closed to them.”

But with Showtime involved in the US and even talk of an all-fem-ale bill, that could soon change.

Fast and furious

Trainer Peter Fury, who has been working with Marshall while handling the affairs of heavyweights Tyson and Hughie Fury, says: “They’ve all realised there’s a market there and there’s money to be made. With television interested, it will get there and will be as big as men’s boxing, I believe that. Within 5-10 years, that timeframe.

“There’s exciting fights out there, with the strong Americans and you only have to get a Savannah and a world champion in her class, have a humdinger fight and that’s it.

“It ain’t women’s boxing or men’s boxing, it’s just boxing. That’s what I’ve been saying to Savannah to help her compete professionally.

“She’s 6ft, 75 kilos and I’ve got her sparring with middleweights, men, and she is putting back their noses and giving as good as she has got. Fans will love that.”

Perhaps for many, the experience of women in boxing was previously limited to movies, such as Clint Eastwood-directed Hollywood movie ‘Million Dollar Baby’.

It may have won Oscars with its gripping and emotive scenes, which also featured Rijker, but the sight of the main character badly hurt in a bout did budding female boxers no favours, according to Marshall.

“Great movie, but imagine watching that and thinking I don’t want my daughter to box, no,” she says. “I don’t think Million Dollar Baby actually did women’s boxing much good. I was boxing before that, but when I watched it I was thinking ‘Oh God’. I just thought what a load of crap because that’s not what it’s like and fortunately my family supported me.”

But there have long been those opposed, who have suggested women are physically not ready for life in the ring even though medical experts say otherwise.

Multi-weight world champion Bernard Hopkins has said: “I don’t think women should box, period, for health reasons. A woman’s body should be protected in a way that she shouldn’t be punched in her liver or kidney.”

Changing misconceptions is just another part of the battle as Marshall adds: “People will always say women shouldn’t be boxing, it’s not safe, and you will always get that. I did get comments, but I’m the type who is a bit ignorant of that really.”

Big names lead to big business and Mayweather’s involvement has been noted. “He has set the standards in this sport, he knows what it’s all about,” adds Marshall.

“That’s what I’ve learned about pro boxing so far, it’s all about making money, going on the right path and picking the right fights. I’ve also learned about the professionalism and the tricks of the trade that men use.”

As Shields said when turning pro: “Just tell everybody this is the reintroduction to women’s boxing. This is a new era, and that’s no disrespect to Christy Martin or Lucia Rijker or Laila. But the women of this generation are just different.”

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