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Howzat: Saudi Arabia stands up for record cricket match




JEDDAH: More than 6,800 cricket players compete in Saudi Arabia’s largest ever cricket tournament, with matches in 11 cities as part of a national championship.

Players from 369 teams representing 15 local cricket associations will participate in the 11-week National Cricket Championship 2021, which started on January 29 and will end in April.

Matches in the T20 competition take place every Friday at 106 pitches around 11 cities of Riyadh, Dammam, Jubail, Jeddah, Madinah, Yanbu, Tabuk, Abha, Jazan, Qassim and Najran.

The record-breaking competition is organized by the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) and the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation (SACF).

Softball cricket tournaments are also organized with two phases, the first between February and April and the second between October and November 2022.

Eleven Saudi cities of Riyadh, Dammam, Jubail, Jeddah, Tabuk, Mecca, Yanbu and Jazan, Farasan Island, Taif and Hail will host the events, with more than 5,000 players competing.

The events are expected to be popular with a wide range of residents of the Kingdom, especially those from countries where the game is popular such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal, SFA president, told Arab News: People are seeing the Asian community’s fantastic passion for cricket; the players are very committed to the sport. This is what we want to see from all nationalities in the Kingdom during this activation.

Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal, SFA President. (Supplied)

Our ideal scenario is for anyone curious about cricket to be welcomed into the group, and these advanced players will convey their experience and love for the game and spread it further than ever.

SACF Chairman Prince Saud bin Mishaal said: Since Vision 2030 was introduced, Saudi Arabia has made great strides towards a prosperous future for all residents of the country. Organizing such programs for expats, especially those from countries where cricket is so popular, is a major goal of Sport for All within the nation’s Quality of Life program.

The SACF recently called on players to participate in training camps in Jeddah, Yanbu, Medina, Tabuk, Riyadh, Dammam, Al-Leith, Al-Wajh and Al-Qunfudah.

The camps include softball training activities and last until December. A community cricket program will also be held in Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam and Yanbu from February to April 2022.

More than 22,000 people are expected to participate in initiatives and competitions, supported by the Ministry of Sport and the Saudi Arabia Olympic Committee, and organized according to the guidelines of the Ministry of Health, aimed at combating the coronavirus (COVID-19 ).

Nadeem Nadwi, the Jeddah-based Indian entrepreneur and general manager of SACF, said: Cricket has been played in Saudi Arabia by the subcontinent’s expatriate community since the 1960s. However, organized cricket started in 1976 with the formation of three major cricket associations in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam.

In 2003, the Saudi Cricket Center was established under the patronage of Princess Ghada bint Hamoud bin Abdul Aziz to promote and develop the game at grassroots level and pave the way for a Saudi presence in international cricket.

Nadwi said Saudi Arabia now ranks 28th out of 105 countries in the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) T20 rankings.

The response from the Saudi youth has been overwhelming, and now that cricket has entered the Asian Games, it is only a matter of time before the match leaves its mark on Saudis, he said.

The kingdom joined the Asian Cricket Council in 2003 and became an associate member of the ICC.

In the same year, a national cricket team was formed.

The SACF was established in 2020. About 6,800 players from 15 regional cricket associations are registered with SACF.

Abbas Saad Al-Nadwi, a Saudi certified level 2 coach since 2016, told Arab News that there is a fundamental misconception about cricket in the Kingdom.

Saudis see only Pakistani and Indian expats playing cricket and think the game belongs to the subcontinent of India and Pakistan, he said.

Al-Nadwi, 34, said his family members, especially his late father, first encouraged him to take up the sport.

My dad was a cricket fan and always wanted me to play. When I was nine, I started to learn more and more about the game. In 2000 I represented Saudi Arabia in the Asia Cup under 17 in Pakistan. I was 13 and the youngest player in the league. Three months later, I competed in the Gulf Cup as captain of the Saudi national under-17 team, he said.

Al-Nadwi was part of the national team that participated in the 2009 Asia Cup in Malaysia.

I also participated in the 2018 World Cup qualifier in Kuwait. A year later, we won the ACC Western Region T20 held in Oman in 2019. I was also a player and assistant coach. In 2020 I coached the Saudi team in the East Asian cricket tournament.

Al-Nadwi held a three-month summer school for students in Yanbu Industrial City, Yanbu.

The training was held in conjunction with the education department of the Yanbus Royal Commission in the summer of 2015. Nearly 40 primary and secondary school students participated, he said.

Al-Nadwi said the future of cricket in Saudi Arabia is very promising, especially with the support the game is getting from the Olympic Committee and the SAF.

The creation of a federation for the sport reflects the eagerness of the sports authorities in Saudi Arabia to attract more young people to the game, he said.

With more training centers and associations, the game will spread across the Kingdom.

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