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Street cricket rules for Gulf migrant workers

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DUBAI:

It is 7:00 am in Dubai and as the sun peeks above high-rises, it reveals an animated scene below: about 200 people, mostly men, wielding bats and taped-up tennis balls in a weekly festival of street cricket.

About a dozen informal games are in progress in a carpark near the city’s financial district, as metro trains glide across a bridge overhead and police watch from a parked SUV, wary of players bringing alcohol or otherwise misbehaving.

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Every weekend, such games are played on spare patches of ground across the Gulf region, which is home to millions of migrant workers and expatriates from cricket-loving South Asia.

And even as the Gulf, namely Qatar, gears up to host the first football World Cup on Arab soil, another tournament dominated conversation among the players in Dubai: cricket’s Twenty20 World Cup, which was unfolding in Australia.

Faisal, a 35-year-old Pakistani who drives for a living, followed the tournament so avidly that he nearly crashed during India’s tense win over Pakistan in October.

“I was almost in an accident — I was watching my phone, the India-Pakistan game,” he said. “We really love cricket.”

There’s no question which is the prime sport among the Gulf’s migrant workers, whose treatment has been in the spotlight in the build-up to the Qatar World Cup.

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Street cricket can often be seen in Dubai, much more commonly than football.

That’s a result of the huge numbers of South Asians in the region, including an estimated 3.5 million Indians in the United Arab Emirates.

Making up about a third of residents, they dwarf the native population of around one million.

“We keep watching scores while playing cricket,” said Indian expat Dinesh Balani, 49. “While working, while in the bathroom or anywhere, we follow cricket.”

As the November morning heats up, more players arrive, clutching paper cups of karak tea, a Gulf speciality, and bags of bats and plastic wickets as they spill out of cars.

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A children’s game is in progress in one corner of the carpark, while in another, an all-women’s team undergo a coaching session.

Tennis balls wrapped in tape — to make them less bouncy, which better replicates leather cricket balls for bowling and batting — hurtle across the tarmac, bumping off kerbs and rolling under parked cars.

Balani, who works in real estate, said he has played street cricket in Dubai since 1995. He runs a team, the D-Boys, with 30 players on the roster.

He said for many workers, often with boring or stressful jobs, cricket is an important outlet.

“A lot of us are between white and blue-collar workers,” Balani said.

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“So they have to go through a lot of things in the week. They listen to a lot of things from bosses and managers,” he added.

“But this is the one place where we vent out. Nobody is there to boss us. We are our own bosses.”

Amreen Vadsaria, 22, who was raised in New Zealand and is playing with the women’s team, says India’s Virat Kohli is her favourite player. She cannot name any footballers.

“I grew up outside of India, and I never really had an interest in cricket. But I think (playing street cricket) has made me want to follow cricket more,” she said.

“And because it’s such a big thing in my country in India, I think it’s brought me closer to my culture.”

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The players and their games have an itinerant history, moving from place to place as Dubai’s breakneck development turns their makeshift cricket grounds into tower blocks and malls.

Meanwhile, the UAE has become a fixture in professional cricket, hosting Pakistan’s home games for a decade after a 2009 attack on Sri Lanka’s team in Lahore.

India’s glitzy IPL Twenty20 competition shifted to the UAE for two years during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the oil-rich country also hosted last year’s Twenty20 World Cup, along with several Asian Cups.

While the UAE’s South Asian population ensures a ready-made fan-base for big tournaments, weekly cricket also acts as a glue for the community, according to Balani.

“This is what we have done from the age of five. We started playing and never stopped since then,” he said.

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“It is part and parcel of our life… we became friends in cricket and then our families became friends and then our kids became friends and so on and so forth,” Balani added.

“So this is not only cricket, this is also like a family get-together for us,” he said.





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Uruguay held by South Korea in goalless stalemate

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DOHA:

Uruguay faltered in their World Cup opener against a lively and energetic South Korea after they were held to a 0-0 draw in Group H on Thursday in a contest where both teams struggled to find the clinical edge.

Clear-cut chances were rare for either side at the Education City Stadium and although Uruguay created more goalscoring opportunities, neither team were able to register a shot on target.

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Uruguay captain Diego Godin was denied by the woodwork while South Korea forward Hwang Ui-jo blasted over the bar with the goal at his mercy, leaving both teams to rue missed chances before group rivals Portugal and Ghana meet later on in the day.

Uruguay’s first sight of goal came in the 19th minute through Federico Valverde, who connected with Jose Maria Gimenez’s pass and took a touch before firing a half-volley towards goal, but his ambitious attempt went just over the bar.

The South Americans had begun to find their footing when South Korea, having been patient so far, disrupted their rhythm and launched a counter-attack from a Uruguay corner before the half-hour mark. Son Heung-min picked up the ball on the left flank and cut inside, skipping past two Uruguay defenders before curling a right-footed effort towards goal, but left back Mathias Olivera was able to clear it away. South Korea should have taken the lead in the 34th minute when Moon-hwan Kim fizzed the ball into the penalty area and into the path of Hwang in front of goal, but the forward could not keep his composure and sent it over the crossbar.

The closest Uruguay came to scoring in the first half was just before the break, when centre back Godin rose highest to power a header from Valverde’s corner but it bounced off the left post and away from goal. Gimenez made a crucial tackle to deny Son five minutes after the restart after a flowing move from South Korea, while Jung Woo-young blocked midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur’s powerful strike at the other end. Uruguay saw more of the ball but found few chances to break through the South Korean defence until the closing stages, when Valverde unleashed a thunderbolt in the final minute of regulation time that struck the top of the post.





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World Cup fans in Qatar introduced to Islam

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DOHA:

The Katara Cultural Village Mosque in Qatar’s capital of Doha has become the focus of attention for World Cup fans who want to get to know about Islam.

Multilingual male and female preachers at the mosque explain the religion and tolerance of Islam to tourists.

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Electronic boards about Islam in more than 30 languages at the door are positioned to allow visitors to view them on their phones. And booklets introducing Islam in different languages ​​are distributed to those who want them.

The Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs in Qatar also launched a pavilion to introduce Islam and its teachings during the World Cup 2022.

Also read: Batshuayi fires Belgium to World Cup

World Cup fans encounter hadiths — words, actions or habits of Prophet Muhammad — on the walls of streets, describing the importance of good deeds.

The opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2022 was last Sunday at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor.

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The tournament’s official mascot, La’eeb, whose name is an Arabic word that means super-skilled player, along with the flags of all 32 participating nations were waving on the field.





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Ronaldo and Brazil enter World Cup fray after Swiss win

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DOHA:

Cristiano Ronaldo will aim to put his painful Manchester United divorce behind him at the World Cup on Thursday as Brazil also make their bow following a win for Switzerland in the early kick-off.

Ronaldo’s preparations for what is likely to be his last World Cup have been overshadowed by his sudden departure from Old Trafford this week after he lambasted the club in a TV interview.

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The Portugal superstar’s form this season has been poor but he is still hoping for a final shot at glory in Qatar after leading his team to the Euro 2016 title.

The 37-year-old, whose club future is uncertain, is aiming to become the first player in history to score at five World Cups.

Portugal coach Fernando Santos said his men were entirely focused on their opening Group H match against Ghana despite the distractions of the media circus surrounding their captain.

“The players are absolutely focused, with a great spirit, convinced about what they have to do, what their objectives are and realistic about the challenges they are facing,” he said.

“Winning a competition of this magnitude is difficult.”

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World Cup favourites Brazil launch their bid for a record-extending sixth global crown against a dangerous Serbia side.

Brazil boast a frightening array of attacking talent including Paris Saint-German forward Neymar and Real Madrid pair Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo.

Coach Tite will be wary of his Group G opponents after witnessing shock defeats for Argentina and Germany already in Qatar.

“In my opinion these players (attackers) will help Neymar because they can divide up the responsibility and create space for him,” said veteran Brazil skipper Thiago Silva.

“The atmosphere in the squad is super-healthy,” he added. “The mixture of young players and more experienced ones creates a great connection.”

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Serbia appear a more dangerous proposition than four years ago, when they also faced Brazil in the group stage but lost 2-0 and exited in the first round.

“We are afraid of nobody in the world, not even Brazil,” said Serbia coach Dragan Stojkovic, who hopes prolific Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic will be fit for the match at the Lusail Stadium.

Switzerland and Cameroon, also in Brazil’s group, kicked off Thursday’s action in Qatar, with the Swiss winning 1-0 courtesy of a goal from Cameroon-born Breel Embolo.

The forward struck three minutes into the second half at Al Janoub Stadium as Switzerland secured a vital three points.

Granit Xhaka and Remo Freuler worked the ball out wide on the right to Xherdan Shaqiri, whose low cross into the area was swept home by an unmarked Embolo, who chose not to celebrate against his birth country.

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“It’s quite special for him because of his links to Cameroon — I’m very happy he’s playing for us,” said Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer. “He’s always right there when you need him.”

Defeat condemned Cameroon to their eighth straight loss at World Cups — a miserable run stretching all the way back to 2002.

Son Heung-min was named in the starting line-up for South Korea’s Group H opener against Uruguay at 1300 GMT even though he was wearing a mask after suffering a fracture around his left eye earlier this month.

Uruguay coach Diego Alonso selected Luis Suarez up front, with fellow veteran Edinson Cavani on the bench.

Germany coach Hansi Flick said no member of his team was safe after their shock 2-1 defeat against Japan on Wednesday.

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The four-time champions, who next face Spain, are facing a nightmare scenario of a second consecutive group-stage exit after their early departure in Russia in 2018.

“You can understand that we are discussing every matter of personnel and every position,” Flick said.





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