When we think about cricketing hotbeds, the Middle East is not immediately a region that springs to mind. But that seems to be changing. The upcoming ICC Men’s T20 World Cup is set to be co-hosted by Oman and the UAE. This is certain to raise the game’s profile across the region. But the state of cricket in the Middle East is already extremely healthy.
It may come as a surprise to learn that the likes of Bahrain, Iran and Qatar have all been ICC associate members since 2017. Saudi Arabia attained the same status a year earlier. These countries have been regularly playing T20 matches ever since. But cricket in the region dates back further than you might expect.
Oman, who will co-host the T20 World Cup, achieved ODI status back in 2014 and Test playing status in 2021. The UAE, who will share hosting duties, has held ODI membership ever since 1990. Even Kuwait has been an ICC associate member since 2005. The latter of those countries in particular, is in the best shape of its life.
In March 2021, Kuwait Cricket awarded professional contracts to 20 players, each worth approximately $70,000. In addition to being paid match fees, players will earn individual performance bonuses, as well as further rewards for winning games. Although he has since moved on, former South African international Herschelle Gibbs recently enjoyed a stint as the country’s head coach. The level of talent, both in terms of playing staff and coaches, is as high as it’s ever been.
Kuwait may not have qualified for this year’s T20 World Cup, but there is no doubt that interest in the competition will remain strong. Fans in the country will be watching in numbers. Those who wish to enjoy the games can do so by using a VPN to view live streams. Doing so also opens up the use of online gambling sites, enabling cricket betting, not to mention access to online casinos.
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2021 has also been a big year for cricket in Saudi Arabia. The Chairman of the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation, Prince Saud Bin Mishal Al-Saud, revealed proposals to help drive the game’s popularity. One such initiative was the formation of a National Cricket Championship, contested by teams from 11 different cities. The inaugural trophy went to Punjabi Green Cricket Club from the Riyadh Cricket League.
The initiatives were well received by diplomats from cricket playing countries, such as Pakistan’s ambassador Raja Ali Ejaz. He said, “I am personally very happy to see cricket taking root in the society in Saudi Arabia. I hope the detailed vision of the SACF chairman materializes triumphantly. His layout for the series of tournaments scheduled for 2021 is impressive and a major mood-lifter in an otherwise poignant time of a global pandemic.”.
The ambassador also extended a helping hand, adding, “I would also like to take this opportunity to offer Pakistan’s support and collaboration with the SACF for the establishment of proper cricket-related infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, including cricket academies, talent-hunting campaigns, grounds, and coaching facilities”.
If the future of cricket in Saudi Arabia looks bright, the same can also be said of Oman. A former British protectorate, which explains the Sultanate’s initial connection to cricket, the influential Khimji family is driving the sport’s development. The family arrived in Oman 150 years ago from India, to start a business trading spices and tea. That has since developed into a major conglomerate, the Khimji Ramdas Group of Companies
Now it is Pankaj Khimji, Oman Cricket Director, who is continuing to raise standards in Oman, as well as the surrounding nations. And he has big plans. “Oman has elevated in the global cricket scene, we’ve done something right,” he said. “I want to build a pathway for the Associates to be recognized and increase cricket globally. Make the big boys take notice.”