There was a sense of excitement at the ICC Academy on Thursday with budding cricketers saying they were looking forward to Sport360°’s inaugural National School League (NSL), which gets under way on October 17.
Over 100 children, along with their parents and teachers, att-ended the official unveiling of the competition by Sport360° CEO and founder Michael Chalhoub.
Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB) and OMO were revealed as the main sponsors, with the latter’s Gulf marketing director, Unilever Waqas Javed in attendance along with the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) chief David East and ICC academy manager Will Kitchen.
The NSL, which is backed by the ECB and ICC Academy and will allow students to play competitive cricket in a unified league, has attracted 42 teams across the Under-13 and Under-15 age groups.
The schools have been divided into four groups according to their geographical location – Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, Dubai and Sharjah and Northern Emirates – with the top teams advancing to the knock-out stages with a play-off for the second and third placed teams.
The matches will be played on turf wickets with the ICC Academy, 7he Sevens (Dubai), Sharjah International Stadium and Abu Dhabi Nursery Oval among the venues.
UAE coach Aaqib Javed has already said the NSL will allow him to scout for players for future UAE U-16 squads. And in a room where the NSL and ICC World Cup trophies were on display, Chalhoub explained why the NSL was created.
He said: “The National School League was created for you [children] to live your dreams: playing in a 20,000 seat stadium with the cameras pointing at you, with journalists asking you how it felt.
“With the opportunity of having your picture and your name in the national sports paper, and a dedicated website where you might be the next star everyone comments about.
“Isn’t this what we all dreamed of?
He added: “Isn’t sport the best school in life after all? You learn to win or lose, to respect the opp-onents, accept the rules and umpires’ decisions.
“You learn respect, fair-play, discipline and to fight for your team-mates. And all of this is a healthy way of staying fit.
“Maybe you could become the next champion who will go to the World Cup, like our proud colleagues of the UAE here present.
“Or maybe you’ll just have had fun and have stories you’ll be able to share for the rest of your lives. We believe every child in the UAE should go through this school of life; this is the spirit behind the NSL.”
Following the ceremony, Kareem Jafree, Under-15 captain of Repton Royals franchise team (Repton School), hailed the creation of the competition.
The wicketkeeper/ batsman said: “It’s a special feeling to be part of this competition, as it allows us to play against other schools in the UAE at world-class facilities.”
“I’m definitely looking to [be part] the UAE team as the goal and will train hard as it’s something that I want to do in the future.”
And Wajih Zaman, U-13 captain of the DC Sixers franchise (Dubai College), echoed similar views.
The all-rounder said: “To play the game at big grounds is fantastic and one that we just can’t wait for. It will be a great tournament and will be good to play against other schools in the country.
“Our ultimate goal is to win but it will be a good experience for us and will help us get exposure in the media which is great. It’s going to be a learning curve as it will keep us fit and if we do very well, we can play for the national team.”
A total of 122 matches will be played in the NSL, with the final scheduled for February 14.
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