Cricket in Qatar: The sport is not really growing as it should. It’s a matter of concern not just for the national team
India clinched the deciding match against New Zealand in the final ball of the final over in Kanpur recently. It was a moment that made Ramesh Yadav jump up with joy. He became almost hysterical. I was sitting alongside him in the stadium. Ramesh, who belongs to U.P., works as an electrician in Doha and is on a one-month leave.
We got talking and he shared how much he misses playing cricket in Doha. There are places to play, but it’s mostly make-shift. He wishes for a proper cricket ground with all the related facilities where he and his fellow workers from all parts of the Indian sub-continent can play a professional game of cricket after work.
For Qatar to become a center of sports in the real sense, it must move beyond football now. Basketball, handball and motor-racing are also quite popular, with the State providing enough impetus. But cricket is a game that Qatar must re-focus on. Build more public infrastructures, facilities, academies and cricket grounds, especially because close to two million-strong workforce from India, Bangladesh and Nepal enjoy cricket more than any other sport. Playing on well-manicured green grass with pads and helmets in a cricket park is a different feeling from playing on hard turf. And a happy worker is a productive worker.
Equal attention ought to be paid to the development of the national cricket team, which is not doing so well.
Cricket has been a part of Qatar’s sports culture for long, but has fallen by the wayside. It made its international debut in 1979, at an invitational tournament that also featured Bahrain, Kuwait, and Sharjah. For a period during the 2000s, Qatar was one of the top-ranked non-Test teams in Asia, standing fourth in the 2004 Asian Cricket Council Trophy. However, it has since been relegated to the lower divisions of the ACC system, and has failed to qualify for any World Cricket League events.
In the 2017 ICC World Cricket League Division Five, held in September in South Africa, Qatar won the third-place playoff to remain in Division Five. Not a happy place to be in. The tournament was part of the World Cricket League(WCL) which determines the qualification for the 2023 Cricket World Cup.
The team may be at an ebb, but there are ways to improve the ranking and stature.
Get India on board
Qatar is already in talks with Dav Whatmore, the Sri Lanka-born Australian coach, who will be providing guidance to Doha-based cricket academies as part of the “Trucoach – CSS Whatmore Centre for Cricket” initiative. But he will not be a permanent fixture and will only be providing coaching lessons now and then. Even that much would benefit cricket in Qatar immensely, but difficult situations require long-term measures.
India has seasoned coaches even at the academy level and they possess the wherewithal to reverse the fortunes of the tailspinning national team. They can be spread across academies in Qatar, playing a major role in shaping budding cricketers. Like John Wright, the former India coach, says, ‘coaching is just moulding a group that has the skills and the attitude to win’. The men in maroon have the character and the potential to win, which they showed when they won the seven-nation International Cricket Council’s (ICC) World Cricket League Asia Division 1 event in Thailand with a heroic run chase. They defeated Saudi Arabia, who had stayed unbeaten in the tournament coming into the finals.
Whether from India or elsewhere, Qatar needs a top-class full-time international coach who can get them some really tough playing opportunities to bridge the gap. Instilling belief will be the starting point. It can be developed with time, like a win here and a win there.
The critical question is whether the Qatar Cricket Association will take the initiative and approach cricketing greats for coaching assignments in a manner it has not done before. Like a revolution that has made football so popular today. If the development of cricket is not taken upon on a war footing, public interest will further diminish, ultimately resulting in the shrinking of the talent pool. Merely surviving on the fringes could prove fatal for cricket in Qatar.