Illustration by Rosy Tahan
As you walk towards the office of the Department of Athletics, you are greeted by a wall showcasing photos of our Abu Dhabi Inter-University Sports League sports teams proudly displaying their Falcon Pride. These sports are among the few recognized at NYU Abu Dhabi, a school that does not generally define its identity in terms of its sports teams. However, the recognition for club sports — those that are not a part of ADISL — is even more paltry.
Unfortunately, the NYUAD cricket team falls in the latter category.
“There need to be at least four university teams willing to commit in order for a sport to be a part of the ADISL; that is where we struggle,” said Jayesh Raja, the coach of the cricket team. “Just as we were about to start this season in October, three universities merged into one, so we had to resort to becoming a club sport.”
Becoming a club sport meant that all the competitive games with other university sports teams were turned into friendly matches with whatever team was still willing to play. The energetic match day mornings on the beautiful Emirates Palace grounds no longer had the same competitive spirit. The players no longer represented NYUAD in the same capacity. The game always lacked an audience, either because of the early game times on Friday mornings or the unpopularity of the sport on campus. Soon, the team started losing its playing eleven as well.
“Having led the cricket team for over two years, it was disappointing not to be a part of ADISL in 2017-18 after finishing as runner-ups in the previous season. ADISL brought a competitive spirit into the equation, which went missing in our friendly games this year,” said Imitiyaz Haryani, Class of 2019, co-captain of the team last year.
Although Athletics supported the team by funding all the Emirates Palace reservations, the cricket team lost its access to other benefits, such as proper NYUAD Athletics gear and access to the Athletics Center. Not being recognized as an ADISL sport excludes the athletes from various events, and the lack of a proper pitch or nets makes practice sessions tough and unrepresentative of actual match conditions.
“It’s unfortunate that cricket does not get much recognition on campus and the level of commitment from the players is so low. For example, during the ADISL-wide fitness sessions, cricket would be the least represented sport with only … a couple of players showing up,” stated wicket-keeper Matthew Jagdeo, Class of 2021.
Cricket caters to the large South Asian diaspora in the UAE, reminding them of home and allowing them to express themselves through a simple match of street cricket. Considering this popularity of the sport outside the NYUAD community, it is ironic that the team struggles to find a spotlight on campus or even form a complete team. The domination by players from only two countries, India and Pakistan, might play a role in the team’s lack of appeal to a wider audience on campus. Unlike other sports, cricket does not have a women’s team at all, which further contributes to the lack of diversity.
However, with the weekly Monday and Thursday practices and early Friday morning struggles, the team has become almost a family. For any team members, from committed regular players to one-game cameo-makers, the teamwork and friendly banter on the pitch translates into midnight post-game dinners. Some players’ dedication to the sport gives hope to a stronger future for the game on campus.
On April 28, the team, led by captain Farzan Ahmad Khan, Class of 2018, organized an inter-class Gully cricket competition called Clashes to wrap up the year. With funds from the Pakistani Student Association, the event had food items from Boti Street, Pizza Hut and Krispy Kreme along with upbeat Bollywood music that created an energetic atmosphere in the Performance Gymnasium. The competitive 16-over game ended with an underclassman victory, but the event closed with an emotional ceremony where the senior team players were presented with signed leather balls as a symbol of gratitude and respect. Both team captains also gave short speeches before a photo session.
“What made being the captain of the cricket team so special was being able to see the team come together in a special way, and I really hope we were able to put together a tradition that will last,” said Khan. “Regardless of facilities or recognition, in the end it’s as simple as a group of people coming together to play a sport that they are passionate about.”
With the return of upperclassmen who are studying away this semester and the arrival of the Class of 2022, the cricket team hopes to recruit more passionate players whose commitment and dedication will result in more gender and national diversity, as well as recognition for the sport on campus.
“I am very keen to join the team in my senior year with the hope of representing NYUAD in ADISL 2018-19,” said Hariyani. “I look forward to a season of competitive cricket and to [reuniting] with the team.”
Aasna Sijapati is a staff writer. Email her at [email protected]