As Eoin Morgan lifted the Cricket World Cup trophy and shook it to the warm London sky earlier this month, there’s no doubt that England’s triumph would have inspired millions of young cricketers across the globe.
Watching success on the world stage does a lot to influence the next generation of stars to achieve their sporting dreams, while also promoting healthy living and contributing to the wider community.
For any youngster growing up in the UAE, there is a world-class development facility right on their doorstep. It has been 10 years since the ICC Academy first opened its doors in Dubai, next to the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) global headquarters at Dubai Sports City. The academy has handed the UAE’s aspiring cricketers an invaluable opportunity to learn from some of the country’s marquee cricketers and coaches.
Salman Hanif, who recently took over the reins as Manager of the ICC Academy after the departure of long-time facility leader Will Kitchen, believes the large number of cricket academies across the UAE demonstrates the level of demand for these thriving businesses.
But with so many academies available, the ICC Academy is constantly striving to set itself apart from its competitors.
“There are a lot of private academies but most of them are competing with each other on price,” Hanif tells Sports Industry Insider. “We don’t want to enter into a price competition because of the uniqueness of our programme in terms of facilities, quality of the programme itself, coaching, experience, meet and greet opportunities with international players, and awarding ball boy opportunities during international cricket matches at our venue. A lot of these things aren’t available in other academies.
“We are trying to maintain and focus on the quality of the programme rather than just keep increasing the numbers. It would be very easy for us to reduce the price and increase numbers. Overall though, our numbers are very consistent.
“We are satisfied with the number of our participants but we have, and want, to continue providing more opportunities to the boys so that they can progress and join the UAE U-17 and U-19s.”
To underline the wealth of talent coming through the ranks at the ICC Academy, two youngsters shone for the UAE U19s in the recent Asia Cup and World Cup qualifiers.
Captain Aryan Lakra won player of the tournament in both competitions, while 18-year-old Karthik Meiyappan clinched a stunning 4-32 in the Asia Cup final against Kuwait.
“The ICC Academy has improved me a lot over the last two years, not only as a cricketer but as a person as well,” said Lakra, who made his U19 international debut at the age of 14. “The coaches and the facilities are the best in the country and always have been there for me. They keep pushing me to become a better player day by day.”
For any youngster playing cricket in the Emirates, the ICC Academy appears an ideal place to learn from the country’s best coaches, while also mixing with other rising stars.
The Dubai Sports City-based venue has unparalleled training facilities that see junior and senior members practicing alongside the UAE national team and other high-performance sides.
In fact, over 45 professional teams and 15 international teams have played at the ICC Academy over the last 12 months alone. Those 15 international teams boast close to 90 per cent of the world’s top cricketers, enough to inspire any player.
“These facilities were upgraded two years ago and serve the UAE national team to full effect, Hanif explains. “The gym facilities are brand new and all the equipment is also new. The outdoor strength and conditioning facility is brilliant. We try to keep on improving and try to be up to date with modern day requirements.
“The facility is mainly used for cricket but we are definitely happy to facilitate other sports, in particular rugby; the UAE national rugby team also trained here in recent months.”
With the ICC Academy’s strong position in the marketplace, many large companies have been keen to enter into sponsorship agreements, recognising the value of partnering with a facility run by global cricket’s governing body.
Adidas, for example, was recently confirmed as sponsor of the ICC Academy’s Warriors programme, a selective talent development programme for players recognised as having high potential. The association with ICC does, however, sometimes presents challenges for other potential sponsors.
“There has definitely been interest, but we have limitations for sponsorship because of conflict of interest with the ICC,” Hanif says. “For example, Coca Cola sponsor the ICC in the beverage category so we cannot sign up a partnership with Pepsi for the ICC Academy. Similarly with others. But if we feel it fits into our vision and strategy, and doesn’t conflict with the ICC sponsors, then we’ll take a look at it.”
At present, the ICC Academy is busy conducting weekly summer camps and various other projects to encourage the next generation of stars. The marketing and promotions team are also discussing potential plans around the T20 World Cup qualifiers which are taking place from October 11 to November 2 at Dubai Sports City.
“We are also planning to participate in one of the weeks of the Dubai Fitness Challenge in October. We are trying to bring some of the leading players from the associate nations of the T20 World Cup qualifiers to participate as fitness mentors. That’s one of the plans but it’s not confirmed yet,” said Hanif.
“Along with that, we want to help promote not only the ICC academy but also to help promote the Cricket World Cup qualifiers. We are planning to bring schools here to watch some of the matches while they are happening in the stadium.”
Should that plan go ahead it would be another great opportunity to expose youngsters to a high standard of cricket. It is an approach that is ensuring the ICC Academy continues to lead the way in cricket’s development in the UAE.