As all the Indian Premier League teams have landed in the United Arab Emirates, waiting anxiously for the commencement of cricket extravaganza IPL season 7, we look back at the history of the country, of how cricket began to wax, then waned and now is steadily rising back in the country.
UAE and cricket are two terms which have shared a very close relation since last 3 decades, until 70’s hardly anybody knew the actual existence of different emirates combined as UAE and wondering about cricket in desert was almost unimaginable.
However, as the emirates was dominated by the Indian and Pakistani migrants who cannot be separated from the word cricket. UAE lived a dream, in early 80’s UAE had its first international cricket ground in
Sharjah, which soon became very popular as one-day cricket tournaments exploded one after the another attracting huge number of audiences, not only the large Asian expat population but also foreigners and many VIPs.
History reckons that Sharjah has hosted one of the best-played ODIs, the matches were played under the auspices of The Cricketers Benefit Fund Series established in 1981, with an aim to honour the cricketers from India and Pakistan. How can one forget the Indo-Pak clashes that was more than rivalry of bat and ball, the emotions, the passions and the excitement to the games was all about cricket in Sharjah. Recalling the famous last ball six by Javed Miandad in the Austral-Asia cup final between India and Pakistan, scenes like those defined cricket more than just a game.
Between 1984 to 2003 the ground hosted 198 ODI games and four test matches (played by Pakistan in 2002 due to political instability in their country).
However, when the match-fixing scandals started to emerge in late 90’s, the popularity of the venue began to wane, in 2001 India was banned from playing in Sharjah. Between 2003 and 2010, the venue hosted no International cricket.
UAE, once a hub of sporting greats, was erased from the cricket calendar. However the International Cricket Council took a positive step by shifting their office from London to Dubai in 2005. Since then the affiliate members started to play cricket in other stadiums which came up in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
And when instability in Pakistan disallowed cricket in their own country, they chose the most close and suitable venue, which has been often termed as their Home Venue due to a presence of large number of Pakistanis.
Eventually, cricket was revived in UAE as Pakistan played more and more matches, hosting long bilateral tours involving major countries like Australia, South Africa, England and Sri Lanka.
With cricket blossoming in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, UAE decided to bring the beleaguered Sharjah Cricket Ground back into the fray, the stadium then hosted its 200th ODI game, and now holds the world record for hosting maximum number of ODI games at a single venue.
In 2010, due to political turmoil in Afghanistan, they too were conferred with home-venue status at the Sharjah Cricket Ground. Since then Afghanistan have played a good number of games at this venue.
When the first-leg of IPL-7 was being shifted to UAE due to elections in India, a few people raised eyebrows about the venue’s tainted history on match-fixing. But the BCCI, after having numerous discussions with the ICC and the anti-corruption unit was satisfied about the venue, especially since it was home to the ICC headquarters.
Now with international cricket again being played in the Middle East, UAE and especially Sharjah will hope that the coming of IPL will propel the venue back into the international fold and once again make it the ‘MECCA OF CRICKET’.