Posted on October 23, 2015
Malfas, a Sri Lankan ticket officer who has worked in Qatar for six years, dabs the cricket ball into the outfield, scampers for the winning single then raises his arms in triumph. Immediately his victorious teammates rush onto the vast Doha pitch in celebration, hugging each other.
In the stands, a Sri Lankan band, including an irrepressible trumpeter and two noisy drummers, strike up their umpteenth song of a sticky Qatar evening. Amid the growing din, a Bhangra band prepares to dance as the announcer shouts out the result over a booming pitch-side microphone. Organisers hurriedly place trophies on plinths. Those present are drawn from among Qatar's army of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan workers, all prominent cricket-playing nations.
Between them, these four countries account for almost 40% of Qatar's population. "You see the workforce that comes from the subcontinent - India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka - they love cricket," said a smiling Shahid Iqbal, captain of the victorious team, Qalco, a local oil company. "So, because the national game of Qatar is football, we are looking for some opportunities to play cricket. That is our national game."
The joyous scenes are worthy of one of the almost 90 major sporting events, including the current Paralympics world championships, to be held in Qatar in the 12 months up to March 2016. But this jubilant night on the grim fringes of the capital does not even register as a footnote on the country's A-list sporting calendar. It wasn't advertised, no promotional banners were stuck to lampposts, no tickets sold in the city centre, nor any international superstars flown into highlight the event, as usually happens in Doha. Yet, despite the sweaty conditions, a good size crowd - around the same as that at a recent Qatar World Cup football qualifier - has turned out for a seemingly inconsequential eight-overs-a-side cricket competition between teams composed entirely of labourers or those representing local companies.

Street cricket
Well away from the bright lights of Doha's ultra-modern city centre stands the Asian Town Cricket Stadium, where many of the Gulf state's labourers come to relax. Both Qalco and their opponents in the final, QDVC, battled through a competition involving up to nine teams. The tournament itself is like a form of street cricket, which just happens to be played in a 14,000-seater stadium. There is no hard "real" cricket ball - more a slightly harder and bouncier tennis ball - so there's no need for batsmen to wear protective pads, or anything else.
Heading into the final Qalco are clear favourites, thanks in no small part to their star Pakistani batsman Ifzal Khan. QDVC skipper, who gives his name as Zuheb, admits his team, made up of an assortment of workers, has little chance as the final begins. "Some of them are drivers. I do HR work. Some of them here are AC technicians. Some of them are stall-keepers, those kinds of things."
This being Qatar it is hard to escape the vexed issue of workers' rights - an international cause and a sensitive topic within the country itself. The match takes place close to a Labour City, a sprawling new accommodation centre for up to 70,000 workers, many from South Asia. One of the teams taking part, QDVC, a subsidiary of French construction company Vinci, has been accused of using forced labour on sites in Qatar and taken to court in France, a claim it vehemently denies.
Prizes include sharing QR25,000 ($6,800) among the winning team, and QR10,000 for the runners-up. One Bangladeshi player tells AFP he is desperate to win a share of the money as it will equate to around a month's wages, which he could then send home to his family. The conversation is overheard and leads to accusations of trouble-making, a jarring note on an otherwise sportsmanlike evening.
source: Gulf Times