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A cool reception for England in Abu Dhabi

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Adam Mountford | 19:57 UK time, Sunday, 22 January 2012

England fans attending the second Test at the Sheikh Zayed Cricket stadium in Abu Dhabi are being asked to "keep their shirts on".

But if the weather continues to be as chilly as when we arrived here today, they will not need to be told.

The warning comes from the Chief Executive of the Abu Dhabi Cricket Club, Dilawar Mani, who I met in his office next to the ground.

Mani is a very impressive character. Originally from Rawalpindi in Pakistan he has lived here for over 30 years and has real enthusiasm and clearly a great passion for his job. But even he had to admit that supporters arriving in Abu Dhabi for the Test may be surprised by the relatively cool temperatures.

Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium

The Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium opened in May 2004 and has a 20,000 capacity. Photo: BBC

When you hear about frosty mornings back home in England the last thing you want to do is to complain about the weather. But I must admit when I envisaged what a Test series may be like amongst the deserts of the Middle East I perhaps wasn't expecting the overcast skies and sub-60F temperatures which greeted us as we arrived here in the largest of the Emirates.

Mani did assure me that the forecast for the Test, which starts on Wednesday, was sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s. However, an increase in heat can bring its own problems. "The Barmy Army will be able to sit in the sun here," he told me. "But we are going to have to ask them to obey some moderate dress codes".

Mani attended the Test in Dubai last week and told me he was surprised so see some England fans sitting in the crowd with their tops off. "We are more conservative in Abu Dhabi so we are going to ask, in a light-hearted way, that people keep shirts on."

He also confirmed that drinking in the stands will be forbidden although there will be alcohol available in some corporate and VIP areas. "We want the England fans to enjoy our hospitality, but sadly we won't be able to offer them a drink," he said.

But how many supporters will be enjoying the hospitality?

The huge banks of empty seats at the Dubai International Stadium surprised many used to watching England in crowded grounds. But even though entry to the Sheikh Zayed Stadium will be free for this Test, don't expect a sell-out.

It is another impressive arena with banks of grass for spectators and a futuristic south stand, which from a distance looks like a spaceship has landed in the middle of the desert.

But that is the problem - as in Dubai, the ground is very much in the middle of nowhere. It lies 25 kilometres from the main part of Abu Dhabi with no direct public transport. Most supporters will face a taxi ride of at least half an hour to get to and from the ground.

Dubai Sports City

Dubai Sports City last week appeared almost empty during each of the three days' play. Photo: Getty

One of the issues in Dubai Sports City last week was that although the stadium appeared almost empty during the day, when we left an hour or so after play there were still long queues of supporters waiting for transport.

Mani assured me this won't be an issue in Abu Dhabi: "I have spoken to the department of transport and they will make sure at least 25 to 35 taxis are regularly available from 5pm."

But he was realistic in terms of what sort of numbers he was expecting to attend. The stadium seats 20,000 but Mani admitted the most he was hoping for was an attendance of around 12,000 and that would only be over the weekend when the cricket-loving locals may be able to come along.

"When we had the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Test here, we had an average of about 3,000 fans, but after prayers on Friday and Saturday we had more than 10,000," he told me.

"We had problems finding enough seats for the T20 game here between those two teams, but that was on a Friday and people I think are more inclined to come to the day/night games."

It is difficult to tell what sort of match we will have here because the Sheikh Zayed Stadium has only held two Tests. Both games were drawn with South Africa scoring almost 600 and AB De Villiers an unbeaten 278 two years ago.

But Pakistan could easily have won the test held here in October. "They dropped seven catches and Kumar Sangakarra made a match saving double hundred," said Mani.

It may be a so-called neutral Test but we will again be playing on imported Pakistan soil here so expect the pitch to be slow and low.

Talking about being neutral, I asked Mani if he was pleased that Pakistan won the first Test. "I was just pleased one team won the game," he said tactfully. "It would be great if we can produce another result here."

A result inside three days was certainly unexpected in Dubai. The Test Match Special team obviously covered the post-mortem comprehensively with interviews with the likes of Andy Flower and Jonathan Trott. But we were able to have a little downtime.

This was spent in perhaps the way you might expect. Michael Vaughan worked on his golf handicap including a round with some chap called Westwood who's about to play in a tournament out here. Henry Blofeld managed to wangle an invite to dinner at perhaps the world's most exclusive hotel, the iconic Burj Al Arab. I joined Jonathan Agnew and Alison Mitchell on an afternoon visit to the spice souq where Aggers was offered frankincense and myrrh to buy amongst other items

And Christopher Martin-Jenkins mixed a trip to the impressive Meydan Racecourse with relaxation by the pool. Where you'll be pleased to learn he definitely kept his shirt on!


  • Comment number 1.

    Without being negative, I *do* wonder why such large capacity stadiums were ever built in the UAE when they will probably *never* be full. Better, surely, to build smaller stadiums & have a better atmosphere?

    I'm assuming CM-J was kept under close observation at all times, the chances of him being late on Wednesday would, otherwise, be all but certain....

    Trust England have now laid the 'first match for a while' jitters to rest and will do well in the 2nd and 3rd Tests; looking forward, as ever, to the TMS commms!

  • Comment number 2.

    Rules like the ones put in place by the Abu Dhabi authorities for the cricket are par for the course, this will be why AD will always lag far behind Dubai no matter how hard they try to catch up and encourage more tourists.
    Decisions like this are precisely why I and many others choose to Live in Dubai even though we work in Abu Dhabi.

  • Comment number 3.

    The joy of TMS is that while being kept up to date with the cricket, one can quasi-savour the delights of the Burj al Arab.

  • Comment number 4.

    Reports in the local media say that temperatures have been down to freezing in some parts of the UAE, whilst waves of up to 18 feet high have battered parts of the Abu Dhabi coast over the past few days due to strong northwesterly winds.

    Dilawar Mani will be joining us on TMS during the Test to tell us more about the stadium and the exciting plans of the Abu Dhabi cricket club to expand and develop local cricket. Also during the intervals this week we will be finding out what really happens behind the scenes at an England tour and ask how tours have changed. Alison Mitchell will present her postcard from Abu Dhabi and as the counties debate the Morgan report Kevin Howells begins his look at the great characters who have graced the championship over the years. Our coverage from the Sheikh Zayed
    stadium begins at 0545 on wednesday morning on Five Live Sports Extra and Radio 4 Longwave with regular updates from Alison on Five Live. And don't forget you can now enjoy our highlights programme after play on sports extra as well as the Boycott and Aggers daily podcast.

  • Comment number 5.

    With regard to the cold in the Gulf. The first time I was in the Gulf as a young Merchant Navy Officer it was December and it snowed (this was in Mina Abdulla, Kuwait)!
    With regard to the lack of public transport to the pitch that's possibly because any-one who needs public transport to the stadium doesn't matter.

  • Comment number 6.

    Why are you giving temperatures in Fahrenheit? 60F sounds quite toasty to me, but I'm under 40 so I don't understand this scale.

  • Comment number 7.

    Fahrenheit? Really?...

    Adrian. Let go of the past and communicate in terms people understand.

  • Comment number 8.

    I'd be interested to hear Dilawar Mani's views on developing youth cricket in Abu Dhabi. The current competition, started in 2009, has fallen to only 8 schools this year, with many 'western' schools not competing. The lack of organisation and poor facilites at ADCC is the main reason for this. The stadium is a good facility but all other matches aside from the final are played on sand pitches with concrete wickets, staggering when one considers the standard of facilities is usually excellent across all sports in the UAE. The 'Academy' which has been created with help from the MCC is in place and does not target the talent, rather those that can afford to pay the fees. With this philosophy, cricket will continue to struggle in the Emirates.
    In terms of crowd, once the ODI's and T20s begin the stadium will be sold-out, and could possibly be full twice over. If ever there were to be a decision for day-night tests then this would surely be the ideal place to experiment.

  • Comment number 9.

    Struggling to get my head around the idea that people need to keep their tops on if it's hot... It's just a human body. I can see why people might get upset if the barmy army insist on taking their pants off but they aren't doing that (as far as I'm aware). Removing clothing when hot makes sense

  • Comment number 10.


    On the face of it the rules seem rather draconian to us Brits but if you go abroad then you should abide by the culture of the country you go to. When in Rome.....

    Incidentally, i know that there is also a suitable Stadium is Sharjah, Anyone know why the final game isnt being held there rather than playing 2 tests in the same location?

  • Comment number 11.

    Probably no test in Sharjah because that would mean a total alcohol ban!

    It was a shame about the early end to the Dubai test, the crowds on the Friday and Saturday would have been huge. However, people here - especially the Pakistani population - really do work for a living, and we don't have twenty five odd thousand people to make it down the Emirates Road on a weekday to watch cricket.

    The saddest thing to me, listening to TMS in my office here in Dubai last week, was hearing the absolute twaddle spoken about the locals and the country and customs, the days off etc. It would have been a lot better if somebody had taken the time to actually brief the boys properly.

    Let's hope the day later start keeps England batting through the weekend in AD...

  • Comment number 12.

    Probably what really makes "shirts off" such a nasty proposition for the folks in UAE is the number of fat beer bellies and naff tattoos on view!

    Problems brewing in the Streight of Homuz folks. Won't help attract any more people to watch the cricket for sure. Expect about 12 people watching the game.

  • Comment number 13.

    Playing cricket in this part of the world seems rather odd to me. It certainly does not have a warm, happy, carnival atmosphere one would customarily see at traditional venues as in the West Indies, for example, or at Lord’s on a mid-summer’s afternoon.

    Moreover, it was depressing to see the vastly empty stadium last week in the U.A.E. One would, at least, expect to see a reasonable attendance but that was far from the case. Perhaps the powers that be may have no choice but to reconsider scheduling matches in the Middle East.

    Alas, England must now seek redemption for their lackluster performance in the opening Test.

  • Comment number 14.

    The Tuesday start in Dubai was a big factor for the low attendance, why was that agreed? The weekend here is Friday/Saturday and many expats work 6 day weeks with the Friday off. All tests should start on a Thursday as many finish in 3-4 days and that way the TV audience in the UK gets to see the action as well.
    Agree with others, what's with the Farenheit tempeture? I havent used it since the 80s and now have trouble remembering what 60F is, doesnt mean anything to me anymore, you may as well use the Kelvin scale.

  • Comment number 15.

    I visited the Zayed stadium last week and spoke with some of the staff there - they do expect full crowds for India Pakistan!

    And although there is a '30 min taxi ride' in the UAE that amounts to no more than £10 - travel there is very cheap by taxi!

    I only wish I could be there for the test this week instead of being back in Grey England.

    I don't see a problem with people asked to keep tops on - its not going to be roasting hot out there - comfortable tshirt weather!

  • Comment number 16.

    Although a large portion of the population in the Emirates is from Southern Eurasia, they work, on average, 100 hour weeks and hardly earn enough of a salary to pay for a shared room, usually with 6 others plus, and after they have sent money back home, have little cash to survive, let alone go to a cricket match. Doubt they will even get Fridays off. Did you think locals build thoses glitzy hotels and clean the rooms and toilets? Plastic culture supported the by modern day exploitation of manpower.


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