Sharjah was one stadium the Indian cricket board had refused to let its team play, following government orders. That will change though. In a move which raises eyebrows, the IPL has been given the green signal to be played in the desert kingdom.
The last edition of the IPL had ended in ignominy due to the betting and spot-fixing scandal. Sharjah had become a no-go zone for the BCCI following the 2000 match-fixing scandal with reports it was the hub of corruption in the game.
Till then, it was one of the main centres of international cricket. India have not played in Sharjah since losing the Champions Trophy final against Sri Lanka on October 29 in that black year for cricket. However, this year the India U-19 team played the Asia Cup final against Pakistan at Sharjah and also one of their World Cup matches.
The government order to BCCI against playing at Sharjah came after the Central Bureau of Investigation's match-fixing probe in 2000 – it blamed ‘non-cricket' venues for corruption -- and a 162-page follow-up report by its former joint-director, K Madhavan, who conducted the probe for the BCCI that led to bans for players.
Though declining to make a direct comment, the former top cop looked at the BCCI's decision with amusement. "In the world of cricket, they get together and decide. The rhyme or reason is difficult to know. They give some reason and the reason may be different," Madhavan told HT in a telephone chat.
Madhavan had the reputation of a non-nonsense officer and had become a national hero with his investigations into the Bofors and securities scam cases.
The government's initial directive was not to play in Sharjah for three years. But the BCCI has stayed away. The IPL chairman Ranjib Biswal confirmed to HT they have got the clearance this time. "Yes, the government has cleared Sharjah," he said.
The UAE will host the first-leg of the IPL from April 16 to 30. Abu Dabhi and Dubai are the other venues.
Sharjah hosted 198 One-dayers from 1984 to 2003. It became a popular destination with the Asian expat population lending vibrancy and colour, especially at India-Pakistan games. But the presence of underworld characters at the games affected its credibility.
Madhavan said it wouldn't be right to judge the venue based on his investigations done 14 years ago, but was skeptical as Sharjah has no cricket background. "They haven't produced any good players as such, but matches have been held there in the past," he quipped.
However, Madhavan gave the BCCI the benefit of doubt. "I conducted the investigation 15 years ago. Things have changed a lot since. The game is very popular. In spite of everything, people are (still) interested in cricket."