As Qatar World Cup looms, street cricket rules for Gulf migrant workers It’s 7:00 a.m. in Dubai, and the rising light exposes an energetic sight below: around 200 people, mostly males, holding bats and taped-up tennis balls in a weekly street cricket festival. A dozen informal games are taking place in a carpark in the city’s financial centre, as metro trains glide across a bridge overhead and cops keep an eye out from a parked SUV, leery of players who bring booze or otherwise misbehave. Every weekend, such games are played on unused fields around the Gulf region, which is home to millions of migrant workers and expatriates from cricket-crazy South Asia. Even as the Gulf, specifically Qatar, prepares to host the first football World Cup on Arab territory, another competition dominated discussion among the players in Dubai: the Twenty20 World Cup, which was taking place in Australia. Faisal, a 35-year-old Pakistani driver, was so engrossed in the competition that he nearly crashed during India’s dramatic win over Pakistan in October. “I was almost in an accident because I was watching the India-Pakistan game on my phone,” he explained. “We are huge cricket fans.” There is no doubt about which sport is popular among the Gulf’s migrant workers, whose treatment has been highlighted in the run-up to the Qatar World Cup. Street cricket is significantly more prevalent in Dubai than football. As Qatar World Cup looms, street cricket rules for Gulf migrant workers This is due to a large number of South Asians in the region, including an estimated 3.5 million Indians in the UAE. They make up roughly one-third of the population, dwarfing the local population of around one million. “While playing cricket, we keep checking the results,” said Indian expat Dinesh Balani, 49. “We watch cricket while working, in the restroom, or anyplace.” – ‘Our own managers’ – More players come as the November morning heats up, carrying paper cups of karak tea, a Gulf specialty, and packs of bats and plastic wickets as they stream out of automobiles. A children’s game is taking place in one corner of the parking lot, while an all-squad women’s is receiving instruction in another. Tennis balls wrapped with tape hurtle across the asphalt, knocking off kerbs and sliding under parked cars to make them less bouncy and more like leather cricket balls for bowling and batting. Balani, a real estate agent, said he has been playing street cricket in Dubai since 1995. He is the head coach of the D-Boys, a team of 30 players. He stated that cricket is an essential outlet for many people, many of whom have monotonous or stressful employment. “A lot of us are between white and blue-collar workers,” Balani explained. “So they have a lot on their plates this week. They pay close attention to what their supervisors and superiors say,” he continued. “But this is the one location where we can express ourselves. Nobody is in charge of us. We are in charge of our own lives.” Amreen Vadsaria, 22, who was up in New Zealand and now plays for the women’s team, says her favorite player is India’s, Virat Kohli. She is unable to name any football players. “I grew up outside of India and had no interest in cricket. But I believe that (playing street cricket) has made me want to follow cricket more closely, ” She stated. “And I think it’s brought me closer to my culture since it’s such a big deal in my country, India.” – ‘Family gathering’ – The players and their games have a nomadic history, shifting from one location to the next as Dubai’s rapid expansion transforms their makeshift cricket pitches into tower blocks and shopping malls. Meanwhile, following a 2009 attack on Sri Lanka’s team in Lahore, the UAE has become a staple in professional cricket, hosting Pakistan’s home games for a decade. During the Covid-19 outbreak, India’s glittering IPL Twenty20 competition was relocated to the UAE for two years, and the oil-rich country also hosted last year’s Twenty20 World Cup, as well as many Asian Cups. While the UAE’s South Asian population assures a ready-made fan base for major tournaments, weekly cricket, according to Balani, also serves as a community glue. “We’ve been doing it since we were five years old. We began playing and haven’t stopped since,” he stated. “It’s a part of our lives… we became friends in cricket, then our families became friends, then our kids became friends, and so on,” Balani remarked. “So this isn’t only cricket for us; it’s also like a family reunion,” he explained.