Pakistan v England Tour, UAE Jan-Feb 2012
Des' Tour Diary
Des Newton – our tour leader for our Pakistan v England UAE 2012 tour - tells us how it went...
"There is plenty to see and do in Dubai and Abu Dhabi - and the England team made sure we had enough time for excursions..."
Whether or not we arrived here with pre-conceived ideas of what to expect, most of us have been pleasantly surprised. Someone said that it is a place of contrasts. This is true, but maybe a better description would be to call it a place of extreme contrasts.
From the azure blue of the Arabian Sea to the white waterless sands of the adjacent desert, from the sand dune wastes of this desert sitting cheek by jowl with verdant green golf courses and the lush grass of football and cricket fields, from urban centres flaunting the most wonderful modern architecture in the world to the surrounding emptiness of nothing, this place is captivating.
Upon stepping off the plane one is immediately aware of the feeling that everything is man made and that money is no hindrance in building an oasis of magnificent opulence. Entering the city of Dubai this emotion does not leave you but instead increases as you gaze in wonder at the buildings that could only have been erected if the architects had free rein to use their full imagination and creative artistic talent with an unlimited budget. I experience a strange feeling that it looks like a huge movie set for a sci-fi movie and am enthralled, almost like peeking into the future.
The cricket ground in Dubai- known as The Ring of Fire for the lights light up the tented roofs that cover the seats and shine up in the sky in the shape of a circle when viewed from afar- was very modern and comfortable. Our seats directly behind the bowler’s arm in the main stand were most comfortable even sporting arm rests. Bar and limited food facilities were available. No-one seemed to take advantage of the popcorn counter though. We had shade all day so many clients went to sit in the sun in the cheaper seats to develop a desert tan. The happy holiday experience at the Dubai Sports City complex lasted only three days so I have no comment to offer about the cricket.
This did give us some free time to enjoy the delights of Dubai and our clients took full advantage. The whole group enjoyed a top class buffet on board a large dhow as we cruised up and down the Dubai Creek washing down the superb curries with coke and water. Upon returning to our respective hotels the Irish pub and the Rock City club seemed to be suddenly popular.
Margaret Watton had a brilliant idea of attending a ‘Night at the Races’ so off we went in a 28 seater (all 8 of us) to the fabulous Dubai Race Course for horses (as distinct from camels). What’s more, entry was free and we could roam around most of the facilities. The grandstand looked like a huge luxury cruise liner with its seven stories and a spectacular roof from out of space stretching away into the distance. We could walk to the parade ring to see these top class pedigreed steeds so nearby that it felt like you could touch them and then amble to the railing to see them come racing by with thundering hoofs. There is no betting here, so Howzat Traveller Dave Lowe organised a lucky draw for our group and much fun was had by all. Margaret returned the next morning for a behind the scenes tour of all the Racecourse facilities which makes for some fascinating telling.
Individually, the group has been doing their own thing like visiting the various shopping malls and the big favourite the Burj Khalifa tower. It reaches nearly a kilometre in to the sky and the lifts travel very quickly I am told. I will be experiencing that next week as you have to book ahead. The Desert Safari outing was much more exciting than I anticipated. I certainly have more respect for the four wheel drive vehicles one sees on the city streets than before and some of the dunes we traversed I did not think possible. After much whooping and cries of anguish, we stopped at a camp in the middle of nowhere for our desert buffet which this time could be enjoyed with a glass of wine or beer. After an indigenous dancing show top billed by a very good belly dancer we made our way home.
The journey to Abu Dhabi was seemless and let’s hope for better cricket…
People always seem to be intrigued by what is the highest, tallest, deepest, shortest, smallest, longest, oldest, or any other ……est we might find in the world. I share that interest; something unique can have no peer and I think that is special.
Abu Dhabi is the leader in its own category. It is the Richest City in the world.
How one measures this fact I have no idea, but that is what we were told. I do know that on our day of arrival His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Hamdan al Nahyan, the Leader of this Emirate, pardoned all personal debts owed by his people and those in jail would be released and would pay back 25% of their monthly earnings until cleared. Those not in jail would have their debts settled by him so they could get on with their now debt free lives, hopefully having learnt a lesson. I hold the view that a benevolent benefactor in charge is the best way to run a country and this confirmed it for me. No committees. A camel is a horse designed by a committee and camels were only visible in the desert far away. I would vote for him.
Our pleasant journey in our luxury coach from one Emirate to another, through the desert on a highway which sometimes had six lanes, took us about one and three quarter hours. It was strange being higher in our coach than anything created by nature, like hills, mountains or tall trees, as there were none. Out 360 degree view of the level desert ended in a distant flat horizon with only some pylons and some isolated town buildings to occasionally interrupt the view. It was different and fascinating. All the while the buzz of conversation on the bus had a happy and expectant ring to it. After all the England team could not possibly make the same mistakes and would win the second test for sure.
The unpredictability of sport is part of the thrill of coming on a cricket tour. Rewind the clock ten years and England supporters were usually greeted by defeats when they followed the team from Brisbane to Barbados and Delhi to Durban. However, recent years have seen more victories celebrated by the travelling faithful, including a magnificent Ashes triumph, than total thrashings. This made the defeat in the first test in Dubai seem merely an aberration, particularly as it was against a Pakistani side who had been soundly beaten in England the summer before last. Surely the batsmen would work out how to play the spinners and start supporting their world class bowlers?
A 3-star hotel in Abu Dhabi is a 4-star, or sometimes a 5-star in other parts of the world, and unfortunately is priced accordingly. Our 3-star Park Inn was very good. From the swimming pool areas to the rooms and good breakfast to the use of the surrounding hotels facilities, it was a pleasure. Our little island of six hotels adjacent to the Grand Prix track and Ferrari World (including a roller coaster ride where your car reaches 240 kph) was to be our home for the duration of the test match. What with shared facilities between the Park Inn and their sister hotel, the Radisson Blue, we had access to two pools, many restaurants and were able to sign expenses directly to our rooms. Our guests staying at the Holiday Inn enjoyed their facilities and some came across to our hotel to be sociable.
In both Abu Dhabi and Dubai our clients were able to watch at close quarters some of the world’s top golfers in action with very few other spectators in attendance. The extra day in Abu Dhabi allowed time for some of our folk to attend the HSBC Classic (free entry with HSBC credit card) and view the world’s best golfers like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald almost within touching distance. This proved to be a treasured golfing experience. The Sheikh Zayed Mosque proved to be a popular destination with its huge chandeliers and the sheer size to amaze the senses.
An absorbing second test was surely England’s for the taking; they won every session. Except the last. When needing just 144 to win they were bowled out for 72 with the batsmen still not able to cope with the Pakistani spinners. Our supporters were dismayed.
It was back to Dubai for the third test where history repeated itself and England lost the test match once again. The short distance between Abu Dhabi and Dubai meant we could undertake the journey by road. Our coach had mirrors that protruded . Margaret commented that she loved our bus as it had ears like Ian. A back handed compliment for the bus?
In the now familiar setting of Dubai the Irish pub was a much inhabited bonus, selling Kilkenny beer at half the price of other beers. The clients undertook the Big Bus tours, as they had done in both cities, and learnt so much; it is amazing how things come alive when you are told facts you do not know. They visited the almost one kilometre tall Burj Khalifa Tower, experienced the fountains dancing to the strains of music, rode in the modern over and underground tube network that didn’t require a driver, visited shopping malls and beaches and the more adventurous (Brian and Vivien) enjoyed High Tea at the Burj Al Arab (built in the shape of a billowing sail) on its own island. There is plenty to see and do and the England team made sure we had enough time for excursions.
Special mention should be made of our Howzat Pub Quiz team consisting of Colin, Neil, Eddie and Dave; they said the expats team were a bit of nuisance but they managed to beat the best in the Emirate of Dubai to bring glory to our name of Howzat Travel. Maybe we should travel with a Howzat Quiz Floating Trophy with our team wearing our trademark red shirts and have a quiz evening in every city; congratulations to the team for spreading the name and swelling the fame of Howzat Travel. By the way these eggheads also play excellent pool – any challengers?
The Farewell Dinner in an upstairs dining room at Waxy O’Connors was a fitting end to the tour and special guest Scyld Berry of Sunday Telegraph and Wisden fame (arranged by old friends, Ray and Megan) proved to be an excellent speaker and we thank him heartily for his entertaining and informative contribution.
The clients generally discovered what a fascinating place this is. The Arabs don’t seem to work; that is done by foreigners and there are apparently one hundred different nations represented here. Cricket supporters are lucky enough to see many different parts of the world on their travels. The dense population and cultural heritage of India, the beaches of the West Indies and Sri Lanka, the ‘down under’ experience of Australia and New Zealand as well as the natural beauty and diversity of South Africa (and Zimbabwe when it is safe to travel there). The history of the countries of the southern hemisphere is comparatively new to an Englishman who listened at school and knows how long and proud his own country’s past is. However, there is now a new player on the international tourist circuit, one that keen supporters are going to see more and more of. For the centre of the cricketing world is no longer Lords. It is Dubai. The home of the ICC. A country whose modernity makes Australia’s Sydney Harbour Bridge look like ancient history; it is also the home of money. And money is what modern sport, and increasingly cricket, is all about. And money is most certainly what Dubai and Abu Dhabi are about. For a desert area where oil was only discovered in 1968, it has developed a huge amount in a short space of time; from camel herders to rulers of the richest in the world. An gentleman dressed splendidly in white robes told me with agleam in his eye that blood is thicker than oil.
It is a tour that all cricket fans must experience; it is only an eight hour flight from London, the climate is warm at this time of year without being too hot and the hotels range from comfortable to unbelievable. Some may find the flash of ‘bling’ and new money too ‘blinding’ but it is a privilege to experience it. It does not pretend to be anything else and is proud of its status. Others will love the shopping malls, man-made beaches and general nouveaux riche experience. I mean a ski slope inside a shopping mal when it is 25 degrees outside. It is certainly a chance to see the England team in conditions that they are not comfortable with. Hopefully the crowd size is something that will grow when the locals become accustomed toPakistan’s temporary home.
Was it not wonderful watching the ODIs with a feeling of ownership almost as we knew every inch of the ground? Enjoy the T20s with that smug emotion too.
See you in Sri Lanka!
If you wish to read about more of Des' travel experiences, you should check out his book 'Sporting Travels of a Karoo Son'.
"A great read. It took me right back to my growing up years, working alongside and playing cricket and rugby against Des, so real. It then took me on a tour to some of the countries I played in and showed me that while us players are out in the middle we are only a part of the action as other stories are unfolding all around the game." Allan Lamb
You can buy it here - www.desnewton.com