The Indian cricket team need not go all the way to Australia to get a taste of its lively pitches before their winter tour begins down under. They could simply hop over to Dubai, instead. The ICC cricket academy in the UAE is ready to make “tailor-made” pitches to help India prepare for the two-month tour of Australia, comprising three ODIs, three T20s and four Tests, starting November-end. “If India choose to come here before their tour of Australia, it would be very good preparation for them,” says Will Kitchen, who is the general manager of the ICC facility in Dubai.
What makes the academy unique is its pitches, which are made from soil used in Asia and Australia — there’s even grass from England. The academy has 22 pitches — 10 sub-continental, eight Australian and four English. They have two ICC-approved playing grounds, where pitches are made of Asian and Australian soil — the Australian soil is from Gabba in Brisbane and WACA in Perth. There’s also an English square in the nets.
According to Kitchen, the academy has been operational for eight years but only two days have been lost over the last five years because of bad weather.
Playing on a seaming track in Asia, a spinning track in the subcontinent, a very fast and bouncy wicket at the WACA or a Day Five wicket with big cracks —cricketers can experience all this at a single venue.
“We don’t have any availability for our venue now through till April next year. So it’s very, very busy. Obviously, the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) makes good use of our venue. International schedules change, but we are flexible. If we get a letter of interest from the BCCI, we won’t turn it down. If there’s an opportunity to host India, we really won’t turn it down,” says Kitchen.
After the 1-4 slump in England, India is currently in the UAE for the Asia Cup. Their next big series is at home against the West Indies for two Tests, five ODIs and three T20 internationals in October-November – the series ends with a T20 game on November 11.
India starts its Australia tour with a T20 series starting November 25, with the first Test scheduled to commence at the Adelaide Oval on December 6.
Australia’s National Cricket Centre in Brisbane is considered to be the benchmark for a cricket academy. The MCC Cricket Academy at Lord’s, too, is highly rated. India’s National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru is also up there, when it comes to facilities, although it has become more of a rehab centre these days for injured players.
“A lot of these high performance centres are very good. But what we have is completely unique. And I think that’s our key. We are able to provide tailor-made facilities and pitches to anybody. We can host two international games plus an international team for training at the same time. The scale and quality of the venue is top-class,” says Kitchen, adding that the academy is the “busiest in the world”.
However, Kitchen admits, the extreme heat in the UAE is a challenge when it comes to replicating English conditions. “Unfortunately, the conditions here are so hot. The English grass tends to grow in temperatures below about 28 degrees,” says Kitchen, who is from Nottingham and describes himself as a “failed cricketer”.
In 2013, the then BCCI secretary Sanjay Jagdale had visited the venue and was impressed with what he saw. Using the academy’s facilities before important overseas tours by India had been considered at the time but did not come through.
Apart from India, every other Test-playing country has used the ICC academy for training and camps. England under Alastair Cook camped here to train on tailor-made turners before their tour of India in 2012. They ended up winning the four-Test series 2-1. West Indies and Australia are arriving in the UAE this week for their series against Pakistan. The Aussies came last year, too, before their Test series in India. They won the first Test in Pune before going down 1-2 to concede the series. “They (Australia) equipped themselves really well for the Indian conditions. We hosted an extensive camp where we tailor-made the venue to help prepare the Australian Test side,” says Kitchen.
Ziyaad-Ahmad Parker, a South African coach at the academy, says even ICC associate teams and English counties drop in often. “The counties usually come in March before the start of their domestic season and use the English wickets,” he says.
The ICC academy isn’t centrally funded by the global body. It’s a standalone organisation that generates revenue by hosting teams for camps and sponsorships. In fact, sponsorship is a key part of its revenue model, with seven commercial partners in play at the moment.