SOMERSET'S cricketers are preparing for the new season with an 11-day training camp in Abu Dhabi, where they will play friendly matches against Essex.

The county cricket club touched down in the United Arab Emirates on Saturday, March 5 to hone their skills at Abu Dhabi Cricket's facilities.

A day later, eight-time County Championship winners Essex arrived in the UAE capital. 

Somerset will play Essex, captained by Sir Alastair Cook, in two T20 matches, a 45-over game, and a two-day fixture during their stay. 

The first T20 match at the Tolerance Oval is underway having started at 2:30pm Gulf Standard Time (10:30am in the UK).

The second game will start at 6:30pm in Abu Dhabi (2:30pm GMT) and will be broadcast on Abu Dhabi Cricket's YouTube channel.

Somerset's England international Tom Banton has fond memories of playing in the UAE, having lifted the Abu Dhabi T10 trophy with Deccan Gladiators at the end of last year - and the right-handed opener is pleased to be back. 

"I'm back here in Abu Dhabi for the third year in a row," said Banton.

"I've been here with several different franchises and every year it seems to get better and better and the boys love it here.

"The last time we were here, for the Abu Dhabi T10, we managed to win the competition with the Deccan Gladiators, which was probably one of my highlights over the last few years, so I'm really looking forward to getting going."

Former England captain Cook has fond memories of playing in the UAE, where he achieved his second-highest score in test cricket by making 263 against Pakistan at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in 2015.

"It's always great to come back to place where you scored runs," said Cook.

"When you've played one of those innings, you look back on them with great fondness.

"The facilities here are fantastic, we're incredibly well looked after by everyone and, for us as a county, it's served us really well.

"We notice every time we come back that it gets bigger and better.

"It's an incredible project and it's a sports village now.

"You'd be hard pressed to find anywhere in the world a facility in a few years' time that caters for as many sports."

While they are in the UAE, both teams will make use of the site's 20 international nets and state-of-the-art Bodyline gym.

Abu Dhabi Cricket CEO Matt Boucher said: "It's always a thrill to have players of the highest calibre be with us at Abu Dhabi Cricket and to have them mixing with our Abu Dhabi community at the same time creates a real buzz around the venue.

"Abu Dhabi Cricket continues to prove more than capable of catering for both and the presence of Essex and Somerset, as well as their top professionals like Alastair Cook, give our Zayed Cricket Academy kids ideal role models to look up to when they come and share the same facilities as their heroes."

The trip has been organised by Sporta Tours - a subsidiary of Sporta Group - who are long-term partners of Abu Dhabi Cricket and have worked with Somerset and Essex for several years.

Sporta Group director Matt Jackson said: "We're excited to be bringing two of the top English county cricket clubs back to Abu Dhabi Cricket for their pre season training camps.

"The impressive improvements made by Abu Dhabi Cricket to their facilities now make them not only one of the best cricket venues in the UAE, but also the world."

Somerset will play their first league game of the season against Hampshire at The Ageas Bowl in Southampton on April 7.

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