An expensive hobby
It was two weeks after my 18th birthday when I found myself in a rum shack outside the old Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados. I was on a paradise island, happily supping rum punch whilst singing songs late into the night about Graham Thorpe's batting and Matthew Hoggard's bowling. My England cricket heroes had just wrapped up a three-day victory against West Indies to take the series 3-0, and here I was, right in the thick of the celebrations.
I was instantly hooked. What started as a holiday of a lifetime has turned into an expensive and time-consuming passion. Three separate trips to India, a full Ashes tour, a month in South Africa and Sri Lanka, plus another tour to the Caribbean - my love for watching England play cricket abroad hasn't wavered one bit since celebrating that Hoggard hat-trick back in 2004.
Whether it be several thousand of us celebrating an Ashes series victory in Sydney or just several dozen of us making the stupidly long trip from Chennai to Mohali to watch a re-scheduled Test played out in wintery fog, watching England is always great fun.
It's not always just about the cricket. Every tour gives the chance to visit some places that without cricket I might never have done. New Year's Day on top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka, a ferry ride through Sydney harbour. All of these experiences are bonuses of watching international cricket.
Getting away from the tourist traps and glamorous destinations is just as fun though. Cricket gives the chance to visit some seriously remote places the average traveller wouldn't dream of visiting. Earlier this year I found myself in Nagpur to watch England's opening game of the World Cup. To be met with warm smiles, handshakes and cries of "Welcome to Nagpur!" from random shopkeepers and tuk-tuk drivers whilst exploring the city's streets will stay with me forever.
The last time England played a Test in a new country was way back in 2003. The Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka, Bangladesh, was the setting for an England side, containing the likes of Rikki Clarke and former captain Nasser Hussain, which limped to a seven-wicket win against a fledgling Bangladeshi Test side. Fast forward eight years and the new world No. 1 Test side is preparing to play a three-match series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates.
On paper Abu Dhabi and Dubai don't quite capture the imagination in the same way a week in Multan or Faisalabad does. There will be no tuk-tuk journeys, there will be no street food curries and there definitely won't be any horses and carts to avoid whilst crossing the road! But a trip to the Middle East, spending a few dirhams watching the world's best sport is still a pretty awesome way to start a New Year.
For now, it's time to forget where we could be playing and start preparing for the tour. I can't wait to touch down in cricket's newest destination and tell you all about it.
Richard Kemp is in the UAE on his ninth cricket tour with the England side. Since his first tour in 2004, his love for the game has made him max out several credit cards visiting five Test-playing nations, including three tours of India and all five of last winter's Ashes Test matches. He keeps a travel blog of his journeys here