Grounds for concern over these dates in the desert

Sharjah has staged 201 one-day internationals, but how many were fixed?

Dubai

This is a strange tour and no mistake. Given that the main contestants are England and Pakistan there is plenty of scope for it to become stranger yet.

From the start, the idea of international cricket being played in the United Arab Emirates seemed odd bordering on crazy. Arriving here to witness it has done nothing so far to diminish the opinion.

Of course, it could be pointed out that it is not actually a new concept. Sharjah has staged 201 one-day international matches, 63 more than any other venue in the world (the next is Sydney, which some may say is more easily associated with the game). But how many of those were fixed, between 1984 when play started there and 2003 when it was suspended after a match-rigging scandal, is still the subject of wild conjecture.

The mooted figure starts around 50 and does not stop until 198, the number that had been played before fixtures were resumed in 2010.

The return of cricket to this improbable region has gone beyond Sharjah. It now embraces two of the other seven emirates, the Big Two if you like, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. There are two substantial reasons for this. First, Pakistan needed somewhere to play because international cricket ceased there after the murderous attack on the Sri Lankan team coach in Lahore in early 2009 which left seven policemen dead.

Secondly, the International Cricket Council have their headquarters in Dubai. The ICC were based in London for their entire existence from 1909, when it was known as the Imperial Cricket Conference, until 2005 by which time it had become a multi-million-pound organisation, if not quite a governing body.

Having tried and failed to be given tax breaks in England, they were offered an increasingly attractive deal by the Dubai government. In the end, there was no contest and there was always the line that Dubai was a kind of mid-point between the old cricketing strongholds – England, Australia, South Africa – as well as being much nearer the new powerhouse, India, and Asia in general.

So it came to pass that cricket in the desert has emerged in the past few years. There are state-of-the-art grounds and nets where only sand used to be. Andrew Strauss, England's captain, was not kidding when he praised the amenities.

When the site was first picked out it was a camel farm. The ICC showed off their new headquarters then and it was merely a stake in the ground which could be reached only by sandy track.

It is a tribute both to determination and mammon that it has become what it is. But to the visitor brought up with more traditional cricketing structures it remains odd.

Dubai Sports City, wherein lie the ICC's Global Cricket Academy and the Dubai International Stadium, venue for two of the three Tests, is out on a limb. Like everything else in Dubai, sport has been cordoned off in its own area. Still, at the end of a long motorway run it comes as a shock to reach this apparent sporting nirvana. The way is pointed by makeshift signs and then there it is on you, the headquarters of the International Cricket Council, the hub of a world sporting body.

There are building sites all round, with not much sign that they will be transformed in the near future. Not far beyond, the desert starts again.

England will play two of their three Test matches against Pakistan here with the third taking place in Abu Dhabi. Sharjah is not being used, still off limits in English eyes. The entire tour will be conducted in a distance of 80 miles, a little different from last winter's tour to Australia.

The pitches are an object of fascination. Nobody truly knows what they might be like, not English but not sub-continental. The soil to make them and 20 other pitches was transported from Pakistan, 390 tonnes to be precise, from Nandipur where the clay content is sufficiently high.

Both grounds have so far staged two Test matches each but can expect to host many more in the near future. It is international cricket, but not as we know it.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee