Doha displays cricket potential as small-time tourney proves big draw

 24 Oct 2015 - 0:00

Doha displays cricket potential as small-time tourney proves big draw
Former Sri Lankan captain Sanath Jayasuriya acknowledges the crowd at the end of an exhibition match in Doha in this October 6, 2015 file photo.

Doha: Malfas, a Sri Lankan ticket officer who has worked in Qatar for six years, dabs the cricket ball into the outfield, scampers for the winning single then raises his arms in triumph.
Immediately his victorious team-mates rush onto the vast Doha pitch in celebration, hugging each other.
In the stands, a Sri Lankan band, including an irrepressible trumpeter and two noisy drummers, strike up their umpteenth song of a sticky Qatar evening.
Amid the growing din, a Bhangra band prepares to dance as the announcer shouts out the result over a booming pitch-side microphone. Organisers hurriedly place trophies on plinths.
Those present are drawn from among Qatar’s army of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan workers, all prominent cricket-playing nations.
“You see the workforce that comes from the subcontinent -- India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka – they love cricket,” said a smiling Shahid Iqbal, captain of the victorious team, Qalco, a local oil company.
The joyous scenes are worthy of one of the almost 90 major sporting events, including the current Paralympics World Championships, to be held in Qatar in the 12 months up to March 2016.
But this jubilant night on the grim fringes of the capital does not even register as a footnote on the country’s A-list sporting calendar. 
It wasn’t advertised, no promotional banners were stuck to lampposts, no tickets sold in the City Centre, nor any international superstars flown into highlight the event, as usually happens in Doha. 
Yet, despite the sweaty conditions, a good size crowd has turned out for a seemingly inconsequential eight-overs-a-side cricket competition between teams composed entirely of labourers or those representing local companies.
Well away from the bright lights of Doha’s ultra-modern City Centre stands the Asian Town Cricket Stadium, where many of the Gulf state’s labourers come to relax.
Both Qalco and their opponents in the final, QDVC, battled through a competition involving up to nine teams. The tournament itself is like a form of street cricket, which just happens to be played in a 14,000-seater stadium.
There is no hard “real” cricket bal– more a slightly harder and bouncier tennis ball - so there’s no need for batsmen to wear protective pads, or anything else.
Heading into the final Qalco are clear favourites, thanks in no small part to their star Pakistani batsman Ifzal Khan.
QDVC skipper, who gives his name as Zuheb, admits his team, made up of an assortment of workers, has little chance as the final begins. “Some of them are drivers. I do HR work. Some of them here are AC technicians. Some of them are stall-keepers, those kinds of things.”
Prizes include sharing 25,000 Qatari riyals ($6,800) among the winning team, and 10,000 for the runners-up.
One Bangladeshi player tells he is desperate to win a share of the money as it will equate to around a month’s wages, which he could then send home to his family. The conversation is overheard and leads to accusations of trouble-making, a jarring note on an otherwise sportsmanlike evening.