COLOMBO: Sri Lanka, a World Cup cricket champion, has welcomed Saudi Arabia’s interest in the sport, with experts saying the Kingdom has the “full potential” to develop its cricketing skills and compete in the field.
To facilitate the process, Saudi Ambassador in Colombo Abdul Nasser Al-Harthy told Arab News on Monday that he would coordinate with the Kingdom’s Sports Ministry to discuss “how best Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia could cooperate in developing this sport.”
Earlier in March, Prince Saud bin Mishal Al-Saud, chairman of the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation (SACF), announced a series of initiatives focused on promoting the game among Saudis and expatriate residents in
These included the launching of a corporate-level cricket tournament, a cricket league for expatriate workers, and a social cricket program across cities in the country to increase participation at the community, club, and international levels.
Several SACF initiatives have already been launched this year, among them the National Cricket Championship, played across 11 cities and part of four programs that the organization signed with the Saudi Sports for All Federation.
Launched in February, it is the largest cricket tournament ever held in the Kingdom.
Welcoming the initiative, cricket legend Roy Dias, who was the first Sri Lankan to score 1,000 test runs and 1,000 One-Day runs in 1984, told Arab News on Monday that the Kingdom has the “full potential to develop the sport at a competitive level.”
“I have watched Saudi cricketers playing alongside Pakistani sportsmen during friendly matches in the Middle East, and they performed very well,” Dias, 68, said, adding that he hoped that Saudi Arabia would form its indigenous cricket team soon.
Dias, who visited GCC countries between 2001 to 2010 as a national cricket coach for Nepal, said that Oman, Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain were “already active in the field of cricket.”
“Saudi Arabia is most welcome to this cluster,” Dias, a former cricket coach for the island nation and currently employed with the Sri Lanka Cricket Board, said, predicting that a Saudi team would bring in “new experiences coupled with resourceful skills.”
For this purpose, he added, Saudi Arabia could start by introducing school-level cricket for under-15 students, “which would kindle children’s and parental interest, which are sine qua non to develop good cricket.”
He also advised the Kingdom to coordinate with its international allies for expertise in the field.
“Sri Lanka can assist Saudi Arabian cricket in coaching through the Asian Cricket Council so that Sri Lanka could cooperate with the Kingdom in developing the cricket skills of its nationals by participating in council’s tournaments,” he said.
Shums Fahim, a senior editor of the Thinakaran Tamil daily and an expert on the game, agrees: “Saudi team is one of the active players in the Soccer World Cup and I sincerely wish that its cricketers could show better skills to reach the World Cup level in cricket too.”
According to data from 2017-2018, more than 30 percent of the Saudi
population are expats, with the total number of non-Saudis estimated to be 10,736,293.
In the early 1970s, cricket was played mainly by expatriates in the soccer-crazy country. This remains the case even today, with most players in its cricket team hailing from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
In 2001, under the royal patronage of Princess Ghada Bint Hamoud Bin Abdulaziz, Saudi attained legal status to organize cricket in the Kingdom.
In 2003, it became an affiliate of the International Cricket Council (ICC).