QCA officials are seen with Sikander at the Mesaieed cricket ground.
BY RIZWAN REHMAT
DOHA: The new cricket stadium in Qatar ‘is a big leap forward for the development of the sport in the country’, a top official of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) has said.
Iqbal Sikander, the ACC Development Manager, who visited the new stadium along with Qatar Cricket Association (QCA) officials, said: “(To have) such a big stadium in Doha for cricket is a big achievement. I congratulate Qatar Cricket Association for getting the help and support of the Qatar Olympic Committee (QOC).”
Last year in October, the QCA hosted a ACC Development Manager Bandula Warnapura to showcase the growing infrastructure of the sport in the country.
Sikander urged QCA to take the initiative of hosting an event for under-16 or under-19 players representing GCC countries.
The former Pakistan international - who was a member of the side that won the 1992 World Cup under captain Imran Khan - said: “We could have an under-16 or an under-19 event sanctioned by the ACC. I have requested the QCA to initiate a Youth GCC Cricket Tournament.”
Sikander added: “You could invite teams from the Middle East to come here and participate in your event. Doing that would help QCA to show the ACC or the ICC that they have staged a proper cricket event at the new facility involving teams from the region.”
Excerpts from a detailed chat with Sikander, who is in charge of the game’s development in Kuwait, Afghanistan, Singapore, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Question: We believe you visited the cricket stadium, the newest addition to Doha’s sporting infrastructure. Tell us about your views.
Iqbal SIkander: Let me start with a bit of personal history. I have been coming here since 2003. And ever since I have been making my visits to Qatar, what I have noticed is that initially the progress was slow. The pace of progress wasn’t like what we thought it should have been. But what I have seen now - my first visit in three years - I find a big change. Number one, the Qatar Cricket Association is much more proactive. They are working hard on the plans they have charted out. They have plans to add more tournaments including events for women. Their plans also include introducing more events to harness the talent at schools level. They have started having discussions with schools in Qatar. So all in all, that’s a big improvement from what I saw three years ago. Apart from that, I am very happy to see that Qatar has a new cricket stadium. And to be honest, I wasn’t expecting that the new stadium would come up so fast. I was thrilled to see the new facility. I would say it is state-of-the-art. There are five turf pitches. My request to QCA is that they should make the maximum use of the pitches they have at the new stadium. I have discussed this with (QCA President) M A Shahid and his team. I agree that this would take time for the pitch area to settle down. This process takes at least three months to take shape. I say this because the pitch area is relatively new. The surface could be a little uneven but this could be sorted out.
What’s your overall view about the new stadium?
Answer: Overall the ground condition is superb. You can compare the new stadium to any ground in the world. I would say it is a great new facility for cricket lovers. My advice to QCA is to play lots of cricket at the new stadium. They should have more and more matches on the pitches to make sure the pitch settles down. I say that because if ACC decides to stage an event in Qatar, then these pitches should be ready-to-use tracks.
Question: You also visited the cricket facility in Mesaieed.
Answer: Yes, the second thing that delighted me was that they have another ground in Mesaieed. Over there also the stadium, the outfield and the facilities are superb. I feel the pitch over there needs matches on it. It is slightly uneven, I would say. That surface needs to be rolled and matches played on it immediately. If you roll the pitch and don’t play on it, then the surface becomes uneven. Playing matches on any new surface is a must. I would say they must practice on those pitches and then roll them for matches. So, these are the two developments that I have given me the conviction that I could recommend to the ACC to bring one of their tournaments to Qatar in 2014. The ACC calendar is booked and confirmed for 2013. So next year, we can start off by playing a junior event at the new stadium. We could have an under-16 or an under-19 event sanctioned by the ACC. Any ACC tournament usually is contested by teams from eight to 10 countries.
What are the others suggestions or advice that you have given to the QCA?
Answer: I have requested the QCA to initiate a Youth GCC Cricket Tournament. In such an event you could invite teams from the Middle East to come here and participate in your tournament. Doing that would help QCA to show the ACC or the ICC that they have staged a proper cricket tournament at the new facility involving teams from the region. The main emphasis would be to show that the event was staged on turf pitches. Then the message would go out internationally that, yes the new stadium is good enough for any country to come here and play international cricket. So all of this brings me to a very valid point: hosting international cricket. I say if QCA could host a GCC event for juniors and an ACC tournament in the next year and a half, then the feedback on these two events would be fodder for the Asian body to consider bringing an international match or two to Qatar. For example, if all goes well for QCA, then ACC could host a match or two of their next Asia Cup edition in Qatar. ACC would like to move the Asia Cup out of the Test playing countries and give an opportunity to non-Test playing nations so that they have a taste of international cricket. Now, it is not a given that we would have all the matches in Qatar. It is possible that the ACC management decides that one match would come to Qatar and another may go to, let’s say, Kuwait. Similarly, we could have another match in the UAE. Such possibilities are there. So the point is that QCA must look at the kind of base they would like to work on to bring international cricket to this country.
Question: Besides the expert help, does ACC provide any other kind of assistance to QCA?
Answer: Both ACC and the ICC go out of the way to help develop cricket in Qatar. That is in terms of technical support - like how I have come to make inspection of what’s happening - and then we send curators; we help them conduct umpiring courses. Next time when I would come to Doha, I would be looking into conducting a Level 1 coaching course. Then if you ask what else we do at ACC, then I would say yes, we also offer financial assistance. I would say ACC is investing a substantial amount of money in the game in this country. We also provide playing equipment, ground equipment like rollers, grass-cutting mowers etc. So ACC is there to help and we are here to promote cricket.
Question: Don’t you feel that the new stadium is a massive head-start for QCA in terms of developing the sport in the country?
Answer: It is a wonderful head-start. A big, big leap forward. (To have) such a big stadium in Doha for cricket is a big achievement. I congratulate Qatar Cricket Association for getting the help and support of the Qatar Olympic Committee. Now is the time for them to take the next step forward. The QCA needs to take care of these two grounds and hold matches at both venues. THE PENINSULA