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RIYADH: There is an abiding enthusiasm for cricket in Saudi Arabia especially among expatriates from Asian nations already familiar with the game.

Relatively new tournaments that have helped boost this enthusiasm include the Indian Premier League, the Pakistan Super League and the Bangladesh Premier League.

Fans love watching the game with family and friends at home or in cafes and restaurants.

Syed Salman Hussain from Pakistan who plays cricket under the Riyadh Cricket Association, told Arab News: “Cricket in Saudi Arabia is not just a game, but a passion, a lifestyle, and a source of pride for expatriates especially from the Asian countries.”

When asked about where he watches games, Hussain said: “Mostly we gather with friends at one of our friends’ houses and watch it together. The fun of watching the game with friends is wonderful.”

An IPL fan celebrating after his team won. (File photo)

“Of course Pakistan is my favorite team. I used to admire Shahid Afridi a lot, now Babar Azam and Shaheen Shah Afridi are my favorite players.

“Last month Babar Azam made history becoming the first batter in the history of the PSL to complete 3,000 runs. He plays for Peshawar Zalmi which is my favorite team in the PSL,” he said.

Another fan, Faiz Al-Najdi, who has lived in Riyadh for decades, said: “Expatriate workers especially from the cricket-playing nations from the Indo-Pak subcontinent have a special craze for the game.”

“Back home in our respective countries cricket matches, especially the international competitions like Test matches, one-day internationals (known as ODIs) and 20-over matches (known as T20) are like festivals. Cricket lovers often bunk offices and children skip schools and colleges and often the exams are postponed just to facilitate the cricket enthusiasts to watch these matches at their homes on the television,” said Al-Najdi.

“However, in Saudi Arabia the expatriates do not have that luxury as they have in their respective countries. Due to their responsibilities towards work, the expatriates in Saudi Arabia are constrained to just follow the scores of these matches via their smartphones. And — as the ODI and T20 matches are split between day and night then in that case we enjoy watching these matches after the office hours in our homes — with the families or with a group of friends,” he said.

“Sometimes if the matches are either in Australia or New Zealand, then due to (the) time difference it is possible for us to stay awake at night and enjoy watching these matches,” he added.

“Cricket matches have created a frenzy among the expatriates and their families, especially the matches played between archrivals India and Pakistan (which) are a treat to watch,” said Al-Najdi.

Arab News spoke to fans at a Pakistani restaurant in Riyadh where they were watching a PSL game.

A cricket fan watching PSL match at a restaurant in Riyadh (AN photo/ Rashid Hassan)

 

One of them, Naved Cheema, told Arab News: “My favorite team in the PSL is Karachi Kings. I love watching them play.”

Mohammed Serajuddin, an Indian who lives in Riyadh, said: “Cricket is a game that has an almost magical ability. I just love playing cricket. Every Friday and whenever there is a time to play, mostly on public holidays, we gather at some grounds, open spaces to play cricket, mostly in Hai Al-Naseem district or in the Diriyah area.”

“The IPL is going to start later this month. It’s a month-long cricket festival. I enjoy watching the game on my smartphone or iPad. Kolkata Knight Riders is my favorite IPL team,” he added.

Serajuddin said he was looking forward to the T20 World Cup, a biennial international men’s tournament, organized by the International Cricket Council, and co-hosted by the West Indies and the US from June 1 to 29.

“It’s the first time an ICC World Cup tournament features matches played in the US. On June 9 our favorite match will be played — India versus Pakistan. This is going to be the most-watched game of the tournament. We can’t just wait,” he said.

“Of course I want India to win, not only the match against Pakistan but also the trophy. We were so close to winning the ICC World Cup last year. Team India was unbeaten until the final where they lost against Australia. But I hope my favorite team will emerge as the winner this time,” he added.

Cricket Fans watching and enjoying a match on TV with family and friends. (File photo)

About cricket’s development in Saudi Arabia, Serajuddin said: “The Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation is committed to promoting and developing cricket in Saudi Arabia, with the vision of making the country a leading cricket nation in the region and the world, and has lined up a series of major programs to promote the game among Saudis and expatriates.”  

Cricket is one of the world’s most popular sports, played in about 100 countries across multiple formats. There are 12 nations that play Tests, 20 participating in ODIs and 91 in T20s, according to ESPN Cricinfo.

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