Our quest to watch cricket across the world has most recently taken us to the United Arab Emirates — specifically, Dubai, to watch the first Test match Australia and Pakistan. I have now watched cricket in five countries and perhaps nine grounds, but never before in any official capacity.
For this Test, however, I was lucky enough to get media accreditation and spent the days watching from the expansive Dubai International Cricket Stadium press box, rubbing elbows and computer chargers with famous journalists who actually know what they are doing.
It was an interesting experience, and everyone was quite welcoming, considering I am merely dabbling in something that is putting food on their table. There is no question, though, that I was out of my element, as my backpack contents of colourful pens and craft scissors can speak to.
While everyone else wrote copy and reported on current events, I doodled the following cartoons to document the experience.
The Dubai International Cricket Stadium is located in the aptly named “Sports City,” miles from anything. To get there each day, we walked to the metro station, took the metro, walked to the bus station, took the bus, and walked to the stadium. By the time you get to the stadium itself, the famous Dubai skyline is only a hazy outline in the distance.
One of the most exciting parts of being in the press box was free food! In the mornings, I would stock up on tea and coffee and any pastries available.
The media box itself was very nice, with the tables divided out into small individual desks. Little shelves of Plexiglas divided one from the next, and there were holes in the table to run computer cords through to keep them out of the way. I have always had pack-rat tendencies, and love nothing more than surrounding myself with a pile of everything I could ever possibly need. I quickly made a nest of pens and coffee cups to keep me comfortable as I watched the match unfold.
Lunch was more delicious [free!] food. I sat with different people throughout the Test match, and had some great conversations about cricket and sports in general. At one point, after Ahmed Shehzad was hit in the chest by the ball, talk turned to cricket injuries, and I listened to stories of broken arms and concussions over chicken tikka masala and naan.
After lunch, it was nearly impossible for me to stay awake. Subash kept leaning over to whisper “You can’t sleep in the press box.”
As a distraction, I went out into the stands themselves. The press box cuts out the noise of the match so the roar of the crowd, such as it was, became a low murmur in the background. Stepping outside revealed the real experience of watching the match, as fans from both sides cheered and celebrated victories small and large. Saturday was a holiday and many government buildings were closed. It was the largest the crowd had been all week, and families filled the stands.
Among them was chacha, a Pakistani “super fan” who travels around to the different matches, leading cheers and twirling an excellent and well-curated moustache.
The only problem with going outside was the heat! The awning of the stadium keeps most fans protected, but even so, the day is sweltering. I can’t imagine how it must feel for the players, who actually have to perform in such heat. For me, just stepping outside turned my legs to concrete, and made every movement like swimming in quicksand.
After the match each day they held a press conference, during which a representative from each team would speak. A table clustered with microphones was set up in front of them, and the journalists were called on to ask questions. Younis Khan came out to speak after his first and second hundreds, his boyish face lit up with a smile as he told us he was a “proud Pakistani.” The whole room shared his joy, Australian and Pakistani press alike.
I can’t say I actually watched the entire Test match, but I had a great time in the press box. It’s a change, certainly, between fans who come to watch cricket as a hobby and people who are covering it for a living. I was constantly amazed, though, at the passion in the media box. No matter what day it was, how jet-lagged they were, or how many matches they have seen before, the people there reacted with just as much intensity as any super fan. They watched replays avidly, and called out when either side performed well or suffered a loss.
Normally, I can make it through only the first day of a Test match, one and a half at most. During this Test, though, I spent more days watching cricket than I ever have before. It is the first time I really watched a match unfold, and by the end of the fourth day, I found myself peering out through the glass in front of my little desk, notebook and pens momentarily forgotten.
My time as an outsider in the press box was a unique experience, and surely a formative part in my cricket education. It may be behind the scenes, but rest assured the journalists are every much as part of the match as the players or fans, and live and die by it along with them.