JEDDAH: More than 6,800 cricketers are competing 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 are taking part in the 11-week National Cricket Championship 2021, which was launched on Jan. 29 and is due to end in April.
Matches in the T20-format competition will take place every Friday on 106 pitches around 11 cities — Riyadh, Dammam, Jubail, Jeddah, Madinah, Yanbu, Tabuk, Abha, Jazan, Qassim and Najran.
The record-breaking competition has been organized by the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) and the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation (SACF).
Softball cricket tournaments will also be organized with two stages, the first between February and April, and the second between October and November 2022.
Eleven Saudi cities — Riyadh, Dammam, Jubail, Jeddah, Tabuk, Makkah, 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 in 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 see the Asian community’s fantastic passion for cricket; the players are deeply devoted to the sport. This is what we want to see of all nationalities in the Kingdom during this activation.
“Our ideal scenario is that anyone who is curious about cricket will be welcomed into the fold, and these advanced players will impart their experience and love of the game, spreading it further than ever.”
Chairman of the SACF, Prince Saud bin Mishaal, said: “Since Vision 2030 was introduced, Saudi Arabia has made great strides toward achieving 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 players to join training camps in Jeddah, Yanbu, Madinah, Tabuk, Riyadh, Dammam, Al-Leith, Al-Wajh and Al-Qunfudah.
The camps include softball training activities, and will continue until December. A community cricket program also will be held in Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam and Yanbu from February to April 2022.
More than 22,000 people are expected to take part in initiatives and competitions, supported by the Ministry of Sports and the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, and organized under the Ministry of Health’s guidelines, aiming to combat coronavirus (COVID-19).
Nadeem Nadwi, the Jeddah-based Indian entrepreneur and SACF general manager, said: “Cricket has been played in Saudi Arabia by the expatriate community of the subcontinent 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 that Saudi Arabia is now ranked 28th out of 105 countries in the International Cricket Council (ICC) T20 ranking.
“The response from Saudi youth has been overwhelming, and with cricket now included in the Asian Games, it’s only a matter of time before the game makes its mark among Saudis,” he said.
The Kingdom joined the Asian Cricket Council in 2003 and became an associate member of the ICC.
A national cricket team was formed in the same year.
In 2020, the SACF was established. 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 basic misconception about cricket in the Kingdom.
“Saudis see only Pakistani and Indian expats playing cricket and think the game belongs to the India-Pakistan subcontinent,” he said.
Al-Nadwi, 34, said that his relatives, particularly his late father, first encouraged him to take up the sport.
“My father was a cricket enthusiast and always wanted me to play. At the age of nine, I began to learn more and more about the game. In 2000, I represented Saudi Arabia in the under 17 Asia Cup in Pakistan — I was 13 and the youngest player in the competition. Three months later, I took part in the Gulf Cup as the captain of the Saudi national under 17 team,” he said.
Al-Nadwi was a member of the national team that competed in the 2009 Asia Cup in Malaysia.
“I also took part in the 2018 World Cup qualifier held in Kuwait. A year later, we won the ACC Western Region T20 held in 2019 in Oman. I was a player and assistant coach as well. In 2020, I coached the Saudi team in the Eastern Asia cricket tournament.”
Al-Nadwi held a three-month summer training course for school students in Yanbu Industrial City, Yanbu.
“The training course was held in cooperation with the education department at the Yanbu’s Royal Commission during summer 2015. Almost 40 students from elementary and intermediate schools took part,” he said.
Al-Nadwi said that the future of cricket in Saudi Arabia is promising, especially with the support the game receives from the Olympic Committee and the SAF.
“The establishment of a federation for the sport reflects the keenness 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 around the Kingdom.