The Global Cricket Academy in Dubai Sports City will feature pitches that mimic the grounds of internationally renowned arenas.
When the International Cricket Council sent a delegation to India during the 2006 Champions Trophy to promote their nascent Global Cricket Academy in Dubai, they claimed their plans were "literally ground-breaking".
It soon emerged that the game's governing body meant what it said. One of the main selling points of the ambitious project in Dubai Sports City (DSC) was the plan to import different types of soil for their academy pitches. The premise was to replicate the different types of playing surfaces faced by batsmen around the world.
However, the innovative plan has been delayed by the excavation and delivery of the Australian quota. Now the UAE looks unlikely to be able to stage the ICC World Cup Qualifier next April. It will either be postponed or moved.
Rod Marsh, the former Australia wicket-keeper, who is the academy's first director of coaching, said: "By bringing soil in from abroad, it will allow us to create various types of pitches. We will be able to provide surfaces that offer seam-movement, pace and bounce, or spin - and that means the academy will be an ideal location for teams as they prepare for tours.
"The fact we are based in Dubai is an added bonus because, geographically, it is a perfect stopping-off point for sides ahead of the majority of tours."
DSC is touted as the world's first "fully integrated sports city" - and the cricket facilities have been designed to represent a microcosm of the global game. It is hoped the biggest international teams, such as India, Australia and England, will use DSC's facilities while they prepare for foreign tours where pitch conditions differ from those in their own country.
The creation of the cricket facilities at DSC is certainly the most ambitious ever seen in the sport. The operation includes a specialist laboratory, capable of using climate control to make the turf an exact match for the practice needs of bowlers and batsmen.
In order to create the 28 specialist turf wickets, three different soil types are being imported into Dubai: 380 tons of Australian clay, 380 tons of clay from Pakistan and 180 tons of clay from England. The Global Cricket Academy's bosses are quick to emphasise that their grounds are being prepared for the long-term development of the game rather than tournaments specifically.
They are unwilling to rush the procedure just so they can stage the qualifier for fear of doing irreparable damage to the academy pitches.
Macky Dudhia, the general manager for sports business at DSC, stressed the primary goal of the academy was to be a world-class training facility for Test and emerging nations.
He said: "[The] cricket stadium is on schedule to be completed in the early part of 2009 and the wicket and outfield are already seeded.
"The two outdoor pitches at the ICC Global Cricket Academy are on schedule to be completed during the first quarter of 2009.
"However, it is necessary to ensure that the pitches have developed and matured to a sufficient standard before any competition takes place.
"As a result, because of some delays in the soil importation process, we notified the Emirates Cricket Board and, through them, the ICC, some time ago that the academy facilities might not be ready for such an important event."
Whether the bold experiment will work remains to be seen. Many experts believe the way the cricket ball behaves is more dependent on the prevailing atmospheric conditions, rather than the type of soil. For instance, the soggy, overcast conditions readily associated with British summertime traditionally favour swing and seam bowling - hence that is the England team's main strength.
"How the soil would react if it was taken elsewhere in the world, I don't know," said Adrian Morgan, a groundsman at Lord's cricket ground in London.
"I remember many years ago, in the 1970s, the head groundsman at Edgbaston took some English turf to Pakistan. That was a disaster, I believe, but that could also have been because they failed to look after it after it had been laid.
"I don't think an awful lot is down to the soil itself. Atmosphere and the amount of grass cover are the two fundamental things that affect what the ball does.
"The soil doesn't really have a lot to do with the ball seaming, but at some places, for example Old Trafford [in the northwest of England], they use their own mix.
"The surface there tends to break up after a couple of days and that is more inclined to give you a more variable bounce, and assist the spinners more. Only a few grounds use the type of soil they do because it is really hard to work with."
Pitches in the UAE, such as at the Sharjah cricket stadium, which has hosted more one-day international matches than any other ground in the world, most closely resemble those of the Asian subcontinent.
Arshad Ali, the UAE national team's most prolific batsman, said: "The pitches here are solely made for the benefit of batsmen.
"Sometimes the ball keeps low later in the game and that aids spinners, but fast-bowlers might as well not bother."
Dr Mahmoud Ali Abdelfattah, who is a soil scientist at the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, is sure the different types of imported soil will vary from the local kind. "The soil we have here is sandy soil. It has low fertility as its ability to retain water and nutrients is low."
The imported soils, on the other hand, are likely to contain more clay, enabling them to hold in more water and nutrients.
"It will have an improved structure and texture," he said. He added that, provided a quarantine period and tests are carried out, the transfer should not bring in any health or environmental risks.
Source : The National