Sports Howzat! Cricket-lovers in Saudi Arabia follow their favorite game with a passion

RIYADH: Cricket is a hugely popular sport, second only to soccer as the most-watched sport on the globe, and has been played in Saudi Arabia for more than five decades, mainly by expatriate workers from Asian countries.

In the late-1970s, cricket associations were formed that began organizing matches on weekends in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. The game also gradually became popular with locals, but enthusiasts were still mostly Asian expatriates who were familiar with the game. Cricket is followed like a religion in South Asian countries.

These South Asian expatriates in the Kingdom supported their favorite game with a passion. However, the formation of the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation, established in 2020, has seen the game thrive and introduced a cricketing culture across the Kingdom by lining up a series of programs focused on promoting the game among locals and expatriates.

Those playing the game told Arab News that it was not easy to pursue their dream of playing cricket in the beginning as kit such as bats, pads, balls, gloves and helmets were not easily available. Previously players would bring equipment from their home countries, but now several shops provide cricket kits.

“Cricket is a game that requires a wealth of equipment in order to stay safe and reach optimum performance levels. This includes protective gear, cricket-training equipment and cricket-ground equipment,” Abdul Waheed, a star player of the Saudi cricket team that has won two successive ACC Men’s Challenger Cups — the inaugural one last year and this year’s one in Bangkok — told Arab News.

“All the cricket equipment is available in Riyadh with shops in Hai Al-Wizarat, Shumaisi and Manfuha districts. You can just visit the shops and buy it. If some equipment is not available or you want a better-quality brand, they take some time to get it for them from Pakistan and India,” Waheed said.  

“At these shops you can get all the good-quality equipment. If you want normal equipment for practice or you want branded quality bats, pads and all the equipment, it’s available. If it is a big order, these shops also offer a discount.

“We the players in the Saudi cricket team also buy equipment from these shops,” he said.

Arab News spoke to some of the shop owners and retailers in Riyadh.

Ikramullah Khan, a shop owner at Sialkot Sports in Hai Al-Wizarat distrcit, one of the oldest outlets providing cricket equipment in Riyadh, told Arab News: “We have been providing cricket equipment for the past 22 years. My father started it and now I run this shop with my brother providing all cricket equipment for hard-ball cricket as well as soft-ball cricket. We sell everything, including trophies.

“Everyone interested in cricket is welcome to our shop and can buy it. We offer all types of equipment, normal as well as branded and high-quality equipment. If a customer wants some brand which is not available in my shop, I take time and provide once the consignment comes from Pakistan, but mostly equipment is available at my shop,” he said.

“If you buy a low-priced bat for soft-ball cricket, the cost ranges between SR90 ($24) to SR240, whereas the cost for a bat to play with the hard-ball ranges from SR350 to SR1,600, which is original-branded such as CA, MB Malik, and Ihsan.”

Khan said: “Like every other business in the market, our business too was badly affected during the pandemic, and even after that as many families left the Kingdom heading back to home. Now things are improving and with cricket popularity growing more than ever after the formation of the Saudi cricket federation, we are very hopeful that our sales will increase as cricket clubs here in Riyadh such as the Riyadh Cricket Association, Riyadh Cricket League and other clubs associated with it, as well as players from clubs in neighboring Al Kharj, Majmaah, Mazahimiyah, they all come to buy equipment from my shop. Sometimes people from as far as Buraidah, Qassim, come to buy equipment.”

Abid Meraj, of AR Sports, another major shop providing equipment at its outlets in different areas in Riyadh, told Arab News: “We welcome our customers to buy cricket-related equipment at our shop in Al-Ghubairah as well as Al-Wizarat.

“People can just visit our shops and buy all types of equipment to play their favorite game with required safety. Protective gears such as gloves, helmets, pads, armguards, are important to play hard-ball cricket, and we provide everything at our shops,” he said.

Khurram Mustafa, a cricket-lover and a Pakistani entrepreneur, in 2021 sought to boost the game in Saudi Arabia by supplying cricket kits to the Saudi Company for Hardware, or SACO, from Pakistan.

However, the initiative faced a setback as the response was not so enthusiastic, primarily attributed to the pandemic and absence of suitable cricket grounds for practice, he said.

Now that the popularity of cricket is growing with the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation at the helm, and there is an abiding enthusiasm for cricket in Saudi Arabia, especially among expatriates from Asian nations already familiar with the game, Mustafa is hopeful about resuming the supply of equipment.

Undeterred by the initial challenges, Mustafa remains resolute in his passion for cricket, and eager to facilitate its accessibility not only within SACO but also in sports shops across the Kingdom.

“My unwavering commitment to promoting the sport shows my determination to overcome obstacles and foster a thriving cricket culture in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

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