From Sachin Tendulkar’s Desert Storm to Javed Miandad’s six – UAE’s rich cricketing legacy
Each cricketing venue has its own legacy. Lord’s is the Mecca of cricket while the buzz of Boxing Day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) is unmatched. From the turning and batsman favouring wickets of the subcontinent to the pace-friendly pitches of South Africa and New Zealand, each locale gives a different flavour. So does playing cricket in the United Arab Emirates.
Adbul Rehman Bukhatir’s project of building a cricket stadium in the middle of the desert in Sharjah and organising the ‘Cricketer’s Benefit Fund Series’ kick-started cricket in UAE, which is now fostered by corporates who participate in domestic competitions, which have had several Pakistani internationals playing. This led to the first ever Asia Cup being played in the UAE at Sharjah in 1984 with India coming out on top, beating both Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
The UAE carries great significance for cricket than what most of its lovers acknowledge. It is home to the Pakistan cricket team, it houses the International Cricket Council (ICC), has a passionate fan base that has witnessed some great cricketing moments – from Sachin Tendulkar’s ‘Desert Storm’, Javed Miandad’s iconic last-ball six to Wasim Akram’s hat-trick. The UAE has also emerged as a probable venue to host a part of the 2019 Indian Premier League (IPL).
Cricket in the Emirates is as important as it is elsewhere despite one of its iconic venues, Sharjah, having fallen off the radar due to match-fixing scandals. Sharjah may have lost its place, but it still holds its head high, having hosted the highest number of ODIs in history.
For Indians, Sharjah carries bitter-sweet memories. India lost 11 out of 24 games to arch-rivals Pakistan in front of a partisan crowd. “When we used to play Pakistan, there would be 60 percent Pakistani fans in the stadium and 40 percent Indians. But when we started winning, it became the opposite; there would be about 60-70 percent Indians,” says former India cricketer and coach Anshuman Gaekwad.
“The wickets would be whiter”, recalls Gaekwad. “They would change overnight, placid wickets. Dew factor was always crucial for us as the complexion of the game could change quickly. I would always ask for weather report as any change needed to be noticed.”
For most Indian fans, Tendulkar’s stunning consecutive hundreds in the 1998 Coca-Cola Cup remains among the fondest memories of the batting legend. In the sweltering heat of April, Tendulkar played two astonishing knocks to propel India to series win, defeating the mighty Steve Waugh-led Australians on both occasions.
“We were about to get eliminated. The day before the match during nets, I mentioned to Sachin that we need someone to play a big knock. He said, ‘I’ll get it’. He played a great knock, blasted the Australians and we won,” the former India coach recalled.
Gaekawad remembered Tendulkar being unhappy despite the first of those two hundreds. “We returned to Dubai late at night from Sharjah and Tendulkar still wanted to talk about something. Upon reaching the hotel, he told me that he wasn’t happy with his elevation. I asked him to go closer to the ball and cover the ground. These were the days when we had no laptop or support staff, I would only carry a diary to note my points.”
The hope for biggest rivalry
To many, an India-Pakistan bilateral contest is the pinnacle in the sport, but it remains suspended despite endless pleas from the cricket fraternity as well as fans.
However, BCCI’s decision to shift the tournament from India to UAE to organise an India-Pakistan clash also raises hopes for a possible bilateral series at the neutral venue, despite the board blacklisting Sharjah from the venues it plays at.