On the Front Foot: The ICC are here and so are we but it still doesn't feel quite right


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The Independent Online

Ten days in and the UAE still feels like a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. And that's only the cricket.

The Test match starting on Tuesday will be the 10th to be played in the country, the third in Dubai. The first was in 2002 in Sharjah, when Pakistan defeated West Indies by 170 runs. There are likely to be two survivors in their side from that match, Taufeeq Umar and Younis Khan.

Dubai was first used as a venue late in 2010 when it became clear that Pakistan had to play somewhere and that this was as good a place as any. Better in so many ways. It almost certainly would not have been possible had the ICC not moved their wares lock, stock and jockstrap to Dubai six years ago. There are fields for cricket here now – and splendid ones at that – where there used to be none. Still, it does not feel quite right.

While England were playing their final warm-up match last week at the ICC Global Cricket Academy Oval One, Pakistan were playing a match between themselves on Oval Two. Judgement must be reserved until after the Test series is finished.

But the chances are that the opening day will be sparsely attended despite the large Pakistani expatriate community here. Most of its members are cricket daft but have to work six days a week. Friday is their day off and it is confidently expected they will pitch up then.

There remains the uncomfortable feeling, however, that cricket is all very well but other sporting matters take precedence. "Where are you from?" asked the pleasant young man at customs on arrival here. "The UK." "No, not that, which team do you support?" as if asking where you are from meant the same thing. Which football team, he meant.

His was Manchester City, owned by local millionaire Sheikh Mansour. And Mansour was named the other day as UAE's sports personality of the year. Yes, for owning a football club thousands of miles away.

Ireland too green for Tests

Without this tour there would have been no ICC Associate and Affiliate XI, the first incarnation of which was beaten by England last week.

It was a jolly wheeze to field such an XI as England's opponents in their first warm-up match (no doubt an expensive one considering they came from as far afield as Ireland, Afghanistan and Namibia). But nobody should make the mistake of assuming it offers, say, Ireland a greater opportunity to be a Test-playing nation.

The ICC had their fingers burned with Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. It might be the ICC Global Cricket Academy but the number of Test nations is staying at 10 and not shifting.

Here today, gong tomorrow?

This column's influence was resoundingly felt when the New Year honours list came out during its break and contained gongs for Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, and Dickie Bird, the former Test umpire.

Both, especially the former, were no doubt deserved, though Dickie's was an elevation. But OTFF had not campaigned on their behalf. No, OTFF had sought overdue recognition for the great former Test wicketkeeper Alan Knott, and if the honours bods felt so minded, as they should, also for John Snow and Tony Greig.

Mentions there were none, despite much more important service to English cricket (not least, in the case of the first two, the Ashes victory Down Under in 1970-71) than some others rewarded lately. They were great cricketers.

As for Greig, he was much more controversial, deserting the England captaincy as he did. But redemption is at hand since he is delivering the Cowdrey Spirit of Cricket Lecture this summer. The next Birthday honours list is awaited.

Strewth, Bruce, best of luck

The umpires for the Test series have been announced. Billy Bowden, Steve Davis and Simon Taufel are durable, experienced hands.

But one of the umpires in the first two Tests will be Australia's Bruce Oxenford, who has stood in only five Tests dating back to 2010.

Oxenford, who played eight Sheffield Shield matches for Queensland, may feel like a grizzled veteran by the time the Abu Dhabi Test is done.