Students from the Aldridge Cricket Academy have returned from a tour of Dubai that gave them a unique insight into life and playing in in the United Arab Emirates.

The fifteen BACA and PACA students were accompanied by Academy Cricket Director Alexia Walker, Strength and Conditioning Coach Rob Chave, and former Sussex player John Spencer, who acted as the Tour Ambassador. As well as playing three matches the squad visited the Zayed Grand Mosque, the Sheikh Mohammed Cultural Centre and took in a Pakistan Super League Twenty20 fixture.

Match 1 v Reigate GS at ‘Sevens’ ground in Dubai: 35 over match ACA  140-7 in 32 overs (A Gent 33, A Malik  32).    Reigate 141-8 (W Sheffield 3-30, A O’Brien 2-23, F Thomson 1-13) Reigate won by 2 wickets.

There was much excitement, anticipation and apprehension as we arrived at the very well resourced ‘Sevens’ ground in Dubai. The pitch looked good, the outfield lush and the weather cloudy with the threat of rain…..not what we expected while playing cricket in the desert! A steady start saw us reach 39-1 in 10 overs, very promising as it was our first bat on grass for at least five months. The next 10 overs produced just 32 runs as the batters struggled to ,find their timing against tight bowling and keen fielding. Just as the runs started to flow we went off for a rain break and an early lunch. The match was reduced to 32 overs (which was to our disadvantage; an observation, clearly not an excuse!) and we did very well to add 51 in the last 7 overs. Awais Malik scored a solid 32 and Alfie Gent a quick-fire 33. 140-7 was a competitive total. The bowlers acquitted themselves well. They were backed up by some keen fielding and, after 20 overs Reigate were 65-3; 75 to win in 12 overs, so the game was delicately poised. Finn Thomson (1-13 in 6 overs) bowled beautifully, to stem their flow of runs in the middle overs, and Louis Grahame bowled a good spell and claimed a crucial wicket. The game seemed to be slipping from our grasp when Will Sheffield came back and took 3 wickets. 11 to win in 2 overs; 6 required off the last over; 3 off the last ball….we couldn’t have written a better script! Will bowled a near perfect swinging yorker only to see it squirt off an inside edge to an unprotected boundary. So we lost by two wickets off the last ball….but what an opening game.

Match 2: v Zayed Academy at the Zayed Stadium nursery ground, Abu Dhabi: 40 over match Zayed Academy 174 (C Hepburn 3-3, A O’Brien 2-23, F Thomson 2-33).  ACA 175-9 (W Sheffield 47 not out, A Gent 27, R Barnes 25, F Thomson 15). ACA won by 1wicket.

The Zayed Stadium nursery ground is adjacent to the impressive Test Match ground. It provided another hard and well grassed wicket with lush grass on the sandy outfield. It was more a game of ‘four quarters’ than ‘two halves’ with ACA dominant at the crucial parts of the match. Zayed got off to a very solid start, accumulating 77-2 in the first 20 overs. Their progress was slowed down by a lovely spell of left spin by Adam O’Brien and we never allowed them to regain the initiative. We didn’t help ourselves by dropping far too many catches; however, we caught three ‘blinders’, two at slip by Redding Barnes and one in the deep by Liam O’Brien. Charley Hepburn took 3-3 to polish off their innings, which ensured that the target stayed within reach. In reply, we got off to a poor start; at 26-5 our position could have described as ‘dire’ – at best, as ‘not being in the driving seat!’ Redding Barnes and Alfie Gent added 57 to give our innings an air of respectability; more important was that they created momentum and played the spinners with ease. Finn Thomson and Will Sheffield maintained this momentum, but when Louis Grahame joined Will with 9 wickets down we still needed 36 to win. Displaying great temperament, they knock the runs off with intelligence and calmness; two old pros could not have done it better! My man-of-the-match, Will Sheffield scored 47 not out and played with such style that it made a mockery of the ‘no 11 tag’ he came with in September.

Match 3: v GM Academy, Sharjah at The University of Light ground, Sharjah. 30 over match. ACA 118-8 (S Dobson 27, F Thomson 22, L O’Brien 13)  GM Academy 119-4 (W Sheffield 3-28) GM Academy won by 4 wickets.

It was early breakfast for a prompt departure for the 9:00 start in Sharjah. We weaved our way through heavy traffic in time to get properly loose and warmed up for 9:00 but there was no sign of ground staff or opposition until nearly 10:00! Apart from a few who regretted an hour of unnecessarily lost sleep, we were all pretty relaxed about the delay. The wicket was rolled mud, the type we had been expecting in the UAE, but the covers had leaked leaving a series of saturated patches just short of a length. Nonetheless we elected to bat and the wicket played beautifully. Sam Dobson and Finn Thomson played extremely well against some tight opening bowlers and a very good spin bowler. At 58-1 in the 13th over we were looking good. The turning point was Sam Dobson’s run out, and the innings subsided in a fashion that has become too frequent for English teams on slow flat turners! Liam O’Brien hit the shot of the tour – a huge six over Long off – but he then ran himself out in the same over. Will Sheffield looked good again with a chirpy 10 not out. Defending 118, we needed to be in top form with the ball and in the field; a maiden from Will Sheffield looked promising but it was a false dawn as they climbed into our bowling with an indecent amount of relish. Their no 3, fresh from a 20 ball 45 against the full senior Scotland team, hit 4 sixes in his first 8 balls, all classically executed. The team will have learned a lot from playing against a strong side in same conditions in which the England, Australian, New Zealand and South African Test teams struggle. For a while we looked comfortable, definitely in control; the key is to keep the momentum going for you let the opposition back in the game at your peril….ask the England Test, ODI and T20 teams!