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England get to work... at construction site

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Adam Mountford | 10:33 UK time, Friday, 13 January 2012

Well Henry Blofeld may struggle to find many buses to talk about in Dubai, but he'll have no shortage of cranes to describe when the first Test gets under way here on Tuesday.

This is my first visit to the most populated of the United Arab Emirates - and my first impressions are of a city dominated by imposing skyscrapers, but more recently by unfinished construction work.

England will play their first ever Test on neutral soil in an area known as Dubai Sports City, a £4bn development on the outskirts of the city.

The cricket stadium, nicknamed "The ring of fire", is an impressive 25,000-seater arena with state of the art facilities for players, spectators and the media.

The name derives from the innovative lighting system installed into the rim of the roof which we'll see in action when the day/night one day matches begin at the end of the test series. The posters advertising the games use the tagline "Temperatures are rising at the ring of fire".

But although the stadium looks impressive, the setting is bizarre. All around Dubai Sports City there are hundreds of half built buildings surrounded by idle cranes.
It's all rather eerie - a sort of construction site version of the Marie Celeste. The worldwide recession has caused work on many of the projects in the area to cease and who knows if the building work will ever be finished.

England warmed up for the Test series at the ICC Global Cricket academy just a short distance from the cricket stadium. Again the facilities are impressive, but throughout the matches the playing fields were shrouded with dust blowing from the building sites nearby. While alongside the cricket facility lies an unfinished football academy which was meant to be the first purpose-built Manchester United soccer school in the world.

View from the press box

The headquarters of Cricket's world governing body, the ICC, are also located in Dubai Sports City. Again in theory their offices occupy an impressive location - but the proposed canal basin nearby looks a long way from completion so employees are forced to pass the day with views of dusty trenches and scaffolding rather than the tree-lined waterway they will have seen on the initial plans for the area.

Dubai is currently a city of contrasts - in one part of town there is the tallest building in the world, the incredible Burj Khalifa. At 828 metres high it is the ultimate symbol of opulence. But throughout the city you then have these hundreds of unfinished buildings - a symbol of the financial troubles which, despite its apparent wealth, even Dubai has not managed to escape.

In recent months England's Test team have certainly scaled heights as impressive as some of the skyscrapers which dominate the heart of the city - but like the derelict building sites they will feel they still have unfinished business.

England may start the Test series as the number one side in the world, but they have still much to prove when it comes to winning in the sort of conditions they will expect to face here. They may not be playing in the subcontinent itself, but we expect pitches both here and in Abu Dhabi to be subcontinent in nature.

Construction work in Dubai

Plus the Pakistan side England will be facing have put together an impressive run of results despite the many off the field distractions they have had to deal with. Captain Misbah-Ul-Haq has managed to galvanise his team to become an impressive force with a good blend of youth and experience.

The make-up of the England side for the first Test will be interesting. Normally the Test team is straightforward to predict, but performances in the warm-up matches will make the selectors at least think a little harder.

The Test Match Special team selected for the series is led by Jonathan Agnew with Christopher Martin Jenkins and the aforementioned Henry Blofeld. Michael Vaughan, Geoff Boycott, Vic Marks and Ramiz Raja will provide expert summaries. Alison Mitchell will bring extensive coverage on Radio 5 Live, Joe Wilson will report for BBC TV, plus there will be updates and features on the BBC Asian Network.

The TMS coverage gets under way on 5 live Sports Extra and Radio 4 longwave at 0545 GMT on Tuesday. If you miss any of the action, or want a full review of the day's play, catch our TMS Highlights show which runs throughout the afternoon from 1400 on Sports Extra.

And of course they will be lots to enjoy online including the TMS text commentary. Jonathan Agnew's column, behind the scenes photos and regular blogs.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Excellent backdrop-blog to set the scene. Can't wait for the action to start, and also looking forward to hearing Ramiz Raja again.

    One thing I'm still unclear about tho'. Is the 'ring of fire' in the middle of the desert, as some sources have claimed (e.g. Middlesex's Dawid Malan)? Your blog suggests that the ground is surrounded by deserted building projects. Either way, it all seems a little surreal.

  • Comment number 2.

    this should be intriuging, but will there be a round up podcast for those at work....

  • Comment number 3.

    Its a real pity that the writer elects to focus on issues in dubai that are more than 3 years old and which metaphorically are yesterdays news and todays 'fish and chips' newspaper. Germain Greer and Rod Liddel have had their little spiteful comments about Dubai and that was back in 2008. As for the apparent lack of buses, thats entirely wrong. This city is full of excellent buses, taxis, water taxis (yes!) and an amazing metro system. Focus on the cricket if possible and please dont make cheap remarks about cranes etc. I dont mean to be sensitive about the matters that pertain to dubai's real estate / building issues but its really quite broing and old hat. Thanks.

  • Comment number 4.

    Dubai is a dump, all glitter and bling but a dump. Cricket is losing its way with the betting scandals and now this.

  • Comment number 5.

    Thanks for the background. The TV news coverage of the background confirm that the setting is "different" to say the least. I'm at a loss to see why your remarks about cranes should be described as cheap, boring and/or old hat.
    Takes all sorts :)

  • Comment number 6.

    Thank you roger wakeham; please stick to the cricket and avoid the economic analysis Adam. How does construction work without cranes anyway? Dubai is a diverse place and anyone who has visited it's Indian and Pakistani quarters, where cricket is played on every spare patch of land, and interacted with the people there, will know that there is much more to the place than bling.

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm very much looking forward to the cricket on 3rd February-the stadium is a ten minute drive from my flat that overlooks many half finished construction sites. It's a shame that the city planners (an oxymoron here if ever there was one!) blasted upwards into the sky rather than focusing on small developments completed one by one. Once the money gets flowing again, this place will be the playground it's always wanted to be

  • Comment number 8.

    Can't wait for TMS to get back on the airwaves. This series will be interesting, tough test for England I think. Also I'd like to give a shout out for the England Physically Disabled cricket team, who start their first ever international series against Pakistan in Dubai next month. C'mon England.

  • Comment number 9.

    @1.

    Can fielders expect mirages in the outfield depicting formally dressed waiters offering chilled Pimms beneath fake palm trees? Will catches be taken in the deep by passing Bedouin camel trains or even phantom SAS men generating dust clouds as they race by in their trusty 'pink panthers'? Or, conversely, am I straining this 'desert' thing to the limits of the imperial imagination?

  • Comment number 10.

    Just read Mr. Wakeham at 3. And wondered how Adam Mountford could possibly have caused offense. So I re-read the blog. I'm still wondering though.

  • Comment number 11.

    Who cares if there's nothing around the stadium? Who cares that Dubai was struck really badly by the recession? We're here to watch cricket! Last time I checked, the real estate situation of a country did not really make a difference on the cricket front. With regards to buses, they are not the main way of transport in Dubai since the taxis are extremely cheap as compared to the UK. Nonetheless the bus system is excellent and is well supported by the metro. Please focus on cricket!

  • Comment number 12.

    Thanks for your comments. In answer to Toby (post 2) yes there will be an Aggers and Geoff Boycott daily podcast available here. It will also be part of the 5Live Sports Extra highlights programme every day from 2pm.
    In answer to Roger (post 3). I was asked to give a first impression of where England will be playing to help paint a picture for those who will be joining us on TMS on Tuesday - and you cannot fail to be struck by the miles and miles of abandoned building works directly outside the ground.
    In answer to Nigel (post 6) I do not for a second pretend to be an expert in world economics, but personally I find it interesting that people were writing about Dubai's unfinished buildings four years ago and the work has still to be completed. I look forward to having a chance to visit the Indian and Pakistani quarters and we will look to make a feature about the cricket being played there on the programme.
    In answer to terminator (post 11) for those looking for a more detailed cricket preview then I would point you to Sam Sheringham's excellent blog about England's bowlers and Jonathan Agnew will shortly have his comprehensive series look ahead.

  • Comment number 13.

    I am so excited that England are playing at the Dubai Ground. As an England fan excpat and mad supporter I am so pleased that I will be there on Tuesday for the kick off. For us in Dubai unfinished projects are the norm but the cricket stadium is magnificent and it will take a good team to take 20 wickets there. It will be a great test and with Pakistan's resurgent form I cannot wait!!! Bring it on Boom Boom or no Boom Boom

  • Comment number 14.

    What is the point of Blowers? Seriously he's appalling. "He's out...yes, he's got him...er no, sorry it's actually just gone for a leg bye. Nice chocolate gateau though". How many pile ups has this buffoon caused on the M1 with his errant commentary? A serious waste of taxpayers money. Great to have Rambo, Aggers and the rest though. Shame no Simon Mann though who really has come on.

  • Comment number 15.

    Lot's of both sensitive and insensitive comments here. I would expect that the building projects are financed by those that wish to make profit and not by the Dubai state. So, when the profit opportunities disappear, the building stops. I would also expect that the Dubai state is putting significant money in to finance the tour, presumably paid to the ICC and 'used to support developing cricket nations' as well as pay the expenses of the tour. There are similarities between cricket and Formula 1 where the right decision is often abandoned for money. Would we expect the England Soccer Team to play a World Cup in the Middle East? Oh..... yes, they will (hopefully)! ICC, FIA, FIFA, all paragons of virtue and good governance.
    I think that the issue is about making the right decisions to enable fair games in reasonable conditions, not whether there are some cranes about.
    p.s. I think Blowers will be invaluable in making what I expext to a tedious series mildly amusing.

  • Comment number 16.

    BBC, beware the ides of march. The new generation of cricket fan is looking for Alan Partridge-style, full-on commentary. No buses, cranes, pigeons, gateaux, etc. Stats, facts and partisanship will be the order of the day. Poor old Blowers. There was a time when criticisng him, even on aesthetic grounds, was akin to heresy.

  • Comment number 17.

    Can't wait for the series to begin. Got it all planned already: catch the last half hour or so of the first session, do the school run then back home to listen to the rest of the days play finished off with the dulcit tones of Boycs and Vaughan summarising the day. Only downside is having to put up with Blowers, nice guy but...

    I reckon an England series win but each game's going to be pretty tight.

  • Comment number 18.

    Most of the people here are not aware about the problems in Dubai Sport city. A lot of Brits invested their hard earned money not necessary for profit but rather for a retirement place and source of income. They were lured by Dubai Government guarantees that Dubai is a safe place to invest. Now the investors are left in the hands of vulture lawyers and only choice they have is to put more money to try to recover their retirement funds or simply to write everything down. No body has interest Dubai Sport City not to be completed. The idea was great but it seems that the whole project was too much to handle...and Dubai Government hides behind the sport we all love.

    To go back to the cricket, why would you agree to play in a building site. What do you promote? Buiding site? Are there no other places to play? People are bittered that instead to expose the real issues the investors have, it seems that Dubai is promoted again as a wonderful place to be. Some people may not understand the real problem but British investors deserve at least a bit of transparency and understanding because they lost everything else...

  • Comment number 19.

    My first comment here on the BBC.

    Apolgies to a few that won't enjoy this. I'm a cricket man, an England fan, reading a cricket page. We play against a team a team on the up. In unfamilar lands, squares and wickets for Trott to slowly attend to.

    Adam has tried to give us a backdrop to this.

    Lay off him and join the commments on the the story that really bothers you. Can we leave the Economics to Peston and co. Off the sport pages.

    Personally I'm looking forward to Blowers, Aggers and Vaughan in the early hours.

    Enjoy cricket fans.

  • Comment number 20.

    I'm struggling to understand what the fuss is all about here. Adam Mountford has written a perfectly reasonable article that focuses on the background to the test and on the BBC coverage. Yes, Dubai is a place of contradictions. I saw the Burj Khalifa two nights ago and it was outstanding with its dancing water fountains beneath. Yes, there are cranes standing idle elsewhere, but Dubai is not the only place which offers such contradictions. Visit Mumbai for a test match and you will see both opulence and poverty. Let's be less sensitive about the comments and simply enjoy the cricket. It might be a slightly artificial atmosphere, but, given the problems facing cricket at the moment, let's hope for some inspiring cricket and an England win.

  • Comment number 21.

    I think Adam's comments are absolutley fine and his backdrop to the stadium and Dubai is factually correct and no doubt interesting to those who havent been to Dubai. I'm an English ex-pat in Dubai and I am looking forward to the test series and also Adam's visits to the local 'desert' cricket games, which as others have commented on you'll see all over Dubai where a scrap of dusty waste land is available. This will be the first test match my small kids will have been to (not sure how long they last though!), so this makes this series even more exciting for me.
    To me TMS wouldnt be TMS without Blowers and he adds a unique commentary and some character to the TMS team, just like Johnners did. Long live remarks on buses, trains, airplanes, fancy dress, cakes and pigeons!

  • Comment number 22.

    All I read in the blog is an attempt to set the scene for England's next few tests in somewhere that is very different from London, Manchester or even Karachi. I for one watched the England warm up last week against the Associates XI (thanx to Quipu) and it was played against a backdrop of cranes and JCBs. In fact, the commentators took to naming the ends based on construction equipment.
    I think the reference to the lack of buses for dear old Blowers to comment on, is due to the fact that he probably won't be able to see out of that stadium - not that there aren't any.
    Now, with the scene set and that impressive looking stadium being the first venue, can we please focus on the cricket??

  • Comment number 23.

    Though Adam talks about an impressive run of results for Pakistan, I don't think this will have England quaking in their boots, beating New Zealand, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe is not what I call the top echelon of world cricket, beating Sri Lanka and drawing their series against South Africa would have given them more confidence.

    This should be a good contest, new playing conditions and surroundings for England to get use to, the only advantage I see for Pakistan is that thay have played there more regularly. The end result should be a series win for England, they just tick all the right boxes at present.

  • Comment number 24.

    So looking forward to first TMS of the year. Disappointed to find that Blofeld has still not retired. He's been irritating me since the 60s. I've tolerated him all that time and I suppose I'll have to again, but even those who like his posh prat act must surely be concerned that nowadays he's not very good. He makes too many mistakes, misses too much and his attempts at humour sometimes seem to be more important to him than basic commentating, like telling us the field settings.

  • Comment number 25.

    Can't wait for this wee series to start! Expect commentary will reach only those in UK again!!! Boooo! (Off to those not entirely legal streams from India for me I suppose.)
    No doubt most of these "Blowers bashers" fall into the "What do they know of cricket that only cricket know" bracket. (Gotta love that quote!).....Don't listen to em Blowers, we love you like an old uncle! (Just stop saying "Dear old thing" all the time is all you need to do!!)

    Here's my team:

    Strauss
    Cook
    Trott
    K.P.
    Bell
    Prior
    Broad
    Swann
    Anderson
    Finn/Tremlett (Decide this one on who's feeling chipper on the day!)
    Panesar

  • Comment number 26.

    @20.

    Wholeheartedly endorse your points. There must be a clinical expression for those who contrive to take offense from the most anodyne of contexts.

  • Comment number 27.

    #23, fenderac30
    Yes, this point has not be lost on people. It actually reflects a great deal of credit on some astute Pakistan management. After the England tour things were about as bad as they could get. Pakistan were not too self-important to play some series against weaker teams and to get some team spirit and a winning run going that has served them in good stead. England have also done this cleverly: play Bangladesh home and away, play New Zealand, play the West Indies and treat them all with respect by going out to win; try out some fringe players and different combinations, see how the debutants do and add some squad depth for tougher series.

    Although on paper the Pakistani run does not look overwhelming, the side is beginning to believe in itself and is gelling nicely. Add to that the incentive of playing against England and the fact that they are in their home from home and they become quite formidable opponents. An England win is no sporting certainty and if England do win it will do a lot to quieten the critics who say that they cannot win in Asia.

  • Comment number 28.

    Ps: Well said #20!! A good, scene-setting piece. Now, let's have a good, tough series.

  • Comment number 29.

    I great piece Adam. I can't wait for 05:45 tomorrow. Great that Blowers is doing his 1st away tour for 8/9 years. A great team Adam.

  • Comment number 30.

    You paint a crystal clear picture with words, Adam, a veritable mark of a great penman. It is finally a huge relief to see the BBC opening up a live forum, after a prolonged absence, for its fan to discuss and share their opinions on the game they love.

    It is not surprising that, in light of the megabucks of oil revenue pouring in to the Mid-East that we see, in part, the opulence the author refers to. Now perhaps, regional philanthropists can step up to the plate to get those unfinished buildings done.

    Good luck, England; it should be an interesting series.

 

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