Pakistani cricket legend sees sports growth in Saudi Arabia with optimism

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ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistan cricket captain, Wasim Akram, has said he is optimistic about cricket growth in Saudi Arabia and is eager to see the sport’s talent from the Kingdom, after a visit to Riyadh last month.

Akram was in the Saudi capital for the first time in February where he met with the chairman of the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation, Prince Saud bin Mishal, to discuss the future of the sport in the Kingdom.

Chairman of Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation, Prince Saud bin Mishal, left, presents a special jersey to Pakistan cricket legend Wasim Akram in Riyadh on Feb. 2, 2023. (SACF)

His visit comes as the two countries strengthen ties in cricket, and the sport grows increasingly popular in Saudi Arabia. The Pakistan Cricket Board, which controls the South Asian nation’s domestic and national teams, earlier in January said it was ready to share sports expertise with the Gulf nation.

In a recent interview with Arab News, Akram expressed his optimism about Saudi Arabia’s cricket growth.

“I am sure they can form a proper cricket team where they can actually beat the associate countries,” Akram said.

“But for that they have got to have domestic regular leagues, and that too, like I said earlier, on turf pitches. That’s very important for Saudi cricket to evolve.”

Cricket matches have been organized in Saudi Arabia since the 1960s, when the game was introduced by expatriates from Pakistan and India. The sport has become more structured in the years since, and local clubs began to form.

The Kingdom became an affiliate member of the International Cricket Council in 2003 and, in 2016, was promoted to associate membership.

But the game saw a real boom only recently, after the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation was established in 2020, and has since lined up a series of programs to promote the sport at home and prepare national teams to compete with the world’s best in the future.

Among the sport’s leading nations is Pakistan, where cricket is the most popular sport — played, watched and loved by people across the country that for decades has been one of the top players in the ICC’s Test, ODI and Twenty20 rankings.

In January, Javed Afridi, who owns the Pakistan Super League franchise Peshawar Zalmi, announced that his team was going to play exhibition matches in Saudi Arabia.

Akram, who is revered as a cricket legend, said he was eager to visit Saudi Arabia again to “see the talent,” adding that he was “amazed” with the country during his visit.

“The country is evolving. It has evolved so much,” he said.