Major milestone in UAE cricket as ECB confirms pro contracts

Barnaby Read 18:42 23/11/2015
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Cricketing history: Emirates Cricket team.

The UAE entered the next phase in its cricketing history on Monday as the Emirates Cricket Board announced that it is to offer players professional contracts and establish a full-time selection committee.

A move towards professional cricket within the Emirates has long been mooted but is now within touching distance of becoming a reality.

Aimed to tie in with the ECB’s new financial year – the calendar year of 2016 – the board hopes to announce its final list of professional players in January and will finalise its selection committee within the next three weeks.

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The final process is currently being completed for the committee members who will in turn cast their eye over the players in line for professional contracts and make the final judgement on those to earn visas under the ECB.

While no figure for the number of players in line to become the first to earn a living playing cricket for the UAE has been announced, ECB chief executive David East confirmed that it “will be in the single figures.”

In a press conference held at Abu Dhabi Cricket Club’s headquarters in the UAE capital, East was joined by UAE cricket high performance manager and ICC Academy general manager Will Kitchen and UAE coach Aaqib Javed to announce the news to media.

Tied in with the team’s friendly against an England XI at Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed International Cricket Stadium, the move has been made in order to address the team’s on-field woes since qualifying for the 2015 World Cup and ensure that they do not lose ground on rival associates.

“For the first time we will have professional selectors. They will be selectors that are identified as being former international cricketers who have a good insight into the way cricket is run in the UAE, the associate world and the international stage as well,” explained East.

“They will be asked to liaise very closely with our local councils, watch a lot of cricket here in the UAE, have their ears to the ground and come together under a new chairman of selectors who will then guide them in the way we select the national team going forward.”

The announcement completes a remarkable couple of years for the UAE that despite historic World Cup and World T20 appearances has been littered with disappointment.

Their two I-Cup fixtures have ended in comprehensive defeats, while a woeful campaign in the UK saw their hopes of reaching a second World T20 tournament in a row end in failure and drew to a close the careers of some of their most experienced, ageing stars such as Saqib Ali and Khurram Khan.

A move towards full-time contracts has been delayed due to the UAE’s visa system, while the board has also had to find room in its budget to compensate extra full-time members of staff.

It is something that has taken some work, but has ultimately delighted coach Javed, who will have more control over his players and their movements than ever before, no longer worrying about a cricketer’s annual leave allocation or holiday plans.

It will also mean that young stars such as 16-year-old Yodhin Punja can now dream of becoming a professional cricketer as soon as they leave school, bucking a trend of young UAE talent “disappearing”, swallowed up by higher education or those seeking full-time employment.

“I think there is a number of things we can provide our players; professional training, we can arrange tours [etc],” said Javed.

“We’ve really been struggling to arrange players for these games [against Oman and England this week] because it’s impossible to take leave everyday from your office. Full-time players and a structure around them will be really helpful for UAE cricket.”

As part of the restructure, the UAE will also increase the services it takes from ICC Academy and it is their aim that their newly professional players will undertake coaching courses and become more visible as ambassadors of UAE cricket.

This provides the backbone of a “sustainable” setup that ensures the development of cricket in the UAE does not stagnate or move backwards, instead carries momentum towards establishing the country as a major player on the international scene.

A large bulk of the ECB’s finances has been boosted by its ODI status – which it holds until 2016 – but they are still struggling when it comes to sponsors.

East hopes that this next step in the UAE’s development will improve their performances on the international scene and ensure that they do not miss out on the next ICC funding cycle from 2016-2023, when associate investment rises from $125m to $208m.

“We’d love for it to have attracted more funding but we’re really slicing and dicing with what we already have which is why it’s been a real budgeting challenge,” said East.

“I wasn’t prepared to push the button on this until I was confident we could afford it but we’re now pretty close to being able to.”

Kitchen added: “You’d be surprised by what Emirates Cricket has achieved over the last few years with the limited funding it has had.

“There’s a misconception that there is a lot of funding here because of the high profile cricket played here, but it’s not high profile cricket played by the UAE team.”

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