Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Stadium has been busier than usual since the resumption of cricket after the Covid-19 hiatus around the middle of last year. It has hosted 81 ICC-approved games in the last 11 months, including franchise T10s and T20s, and there is a lot more lined up.
It's a lot of pressure on one cricket facility. As a result, Abu Dhabi Cricket (ADC) has had to expand, and has thrown open Tolerance Oval, a floodlit, broadcast-ready stadium, with five playing surfaces. The ICC accreditation isn't there yet, but the authorities expect everything to be in place soon, in time for some of the 31 remaining matches of IPL 2021 in September-October, and then matches of the men's T20 World Cup between October 17 and November 14.
"If you speak to the best groundsmen in the world, they wouldn't want more than five international matches on each of their surfaces. Our main stadium is now broadcast-ready for seven strips, and the Tolerance Oval is broadcast-ready as well with five strips. So we have 12 broadcast-ready strips, that's 60 games," Matt Boucher, ADC chief executive, told ESPNcricinfo. "Tolerance Oval is another international venue in the Emirates. It's not a 20-25,000 capacity ground. We have modelled it on the English county grounds and the Hagley Oval [in Christchurch]; we have grass banks around the perimeter, so 12,000 people at the most."
At the moment, the UAE has the three main international venues, including the Dubai and Sharjah stadia. That aside, there is the ICC Academy ground, which, however, is not a night-playing alternative. Which makes Tolerance Oval, if approved by the ICC, the fourth night- and broadcast-ready ground in the region.
"Hopefully in six weeks' time we will have the accreditation for that oval, and then it's over to the decision-makers if they want to use it for any upcoming tournaments or whether we use it for practice"
Matt Boucher, Chief executive of Abu Dhabi Cricket
"I can't speak on behalf of the ICC, but from our perspective, we wanted to increase our infrastructure. Our business was very different two years ago. We were hosting a lot of junior sport, junior football and junior rugby, in our outer ovals. We made a dedicated decision at the beginning of this year that we wanted all our cricket facilities to return to cricket and be fully focussed on cricket," Boucher said. "So we have overhauled everything, and it should be ready by the end of August.
"It's not with an event in mind, but for Abu Dhabi to offer a higher class of playing surfaces and dedicated cricket surfaces for the domestic community here and the international community too."
As such, Abu Dhabi has played its part well. No one venue has hosted more ICC-approved games than it has since June 2020 - though Dhaka's Shere Bangla National Stadium has been marginally busier, having also been the primary venue for Bangladesh's domestic matches.
"It has been an incredibly busy season since August last year. It's all moved pretty smoothly, approvals have come in quickly, the ground has been in great shape, and yeah, it's gone pretty well for us," Boucher said. "Hopefully some more big months coming up with the remainder of the IPL and then the men's T20 World Cup and then the Abu Dhabi T10 again. It's been an exciting period.
"Obviously, without the pandemic, we wouldn't be hosting many of the events we just discussed. Around 18 months ago, we were generating our own events and conceptualising products with public and private stakeholders, because we were not reliant on the international events coming in. That sort of flipped on its head because of the pandemic, and all the international events we have hosted, in the most stringent and secure atmosphere we possibly can.
"It will be interesting to see next year, how the bilateral season works at the end of the men's T20 World Cup, there are a lot of countries, even a lot of Associate countries, who need to catch up on their cricket, who are behind on their FTP."
Tolerance Oval is not new to cricket. It has hosted a variety of cricket, and cricketers, but mainly as a training facility, for the UAE national team, English counties on their pre-season travels, as well as 'A' matches featuring Pakistan, New Zealand, Australia, etc. It's got a facelift now, but that doesn't count as guarantee for anything when it comes to the ICC. It might continue to be a training facility for the teams playing in the IPL or the T20 World Cup, in terms of the immediate future, while games of the Abu Dhabi T10 league could well be played there.
"We will wait for the lights to go in, probably some lights' testing, probably some dimensions' testing… and hopefully in six weeks' time we will have the accreditation for that oval, and then it's over to the decision-makers if they want to use it for any upcoming tournaments or whether we use it for practice," Boucher said. "Either way, it's a brilliant new facility. And just to have it for IPL practice and T20 World Cup practice alleviates some space on our other surfaces."