Indian-Pakistan cricket enthusiasts knock business routine for six in UAE

The cricketing clash of the year brought many offices across the Emirates to a standstill yesterday.

Offices were emptied from Mumbai to Dubai as cricket-mad employees postponed meetings, cleared schedules and settled down to watch India and Pakistan face off in the biggest encounter between the sides in years.

With an estimated 2.6 million Indians and Pakistanis living in the Emirates, the game brought many boardrooms and building sites across the country to a virtual standstill.

Indian and Pakistani professionals at the Dubai International Financial Centre and other business districts across the UAE said they were planning to check out early and go to restaurants and venues where the match was being shown on large screens.

"We came in early, and we're going to be watching the match together," said Somer Massey, the director of international business at the Indian bank Kotak Mahindra's Dubai operations. About 20 employees of the bank would watch the first part of the match in the office before venturing out to a restaurant to see the second innings, he said. "We'll be cheering lustily for India," he added.

Conferences being held across the country yesterday were also forced to compete with the match.

Bharat Butaney, the head of the Indian Business and Professional Council in Dubai, was attending the Dubai Economic Outlook conference at Jumeirah Towers yesterday. "We had a house full of people before, but now it's lunchtime, and I see that a whole lot of Indian and Pakistani people who were present for the morning part have already disappeared."

Builders and developers also set up huge screens for labourers to watch the match. Aldar Properties in Abu Dhabi erected large outdoor screens for thousands of labourers on Yas Island, according to a spokesman. Dutco Balfour Beatty, a major construction contractor in the UAE, also erected screens for its cricket-mad Indian and Pakistani workers.

Aadil Kadri, a financial planner in Dubai, said he suspected many business people had called in sick or taken the day off to see the match. On his drive from Sharjah to his office in the morning, he said traffic was unusually light.

"Six of 10 people are not coming to the office, and if they have come to the office they have arranged to see it live," he said. "We are all very crazy and emotional."

The scene in India was even more chaotic, with businesses closed and millions of fans glued to television sets across the country.

The match was the first to be held between the subcontinent rivals on Indian soil since the Mumbai bombings in 2008.

The Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who flew to Mohali to watch the match with his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh, declared a half-day holiday at all government offices.

The Karachi Stock Exchange halted trading 90 minutes early.

India did not declare a holiday, but cricket took precedence over business. A few companies gave their workers the afternoon off. Many others set up television screens in offices for employees to watch the match.

Thousands more employees skipped work, with or without permission. But such truancy is unlikely to be dealt with harshly, not least because many bosses also took the day off. The billionaire tycoon Mukesh Ambani from Reliance Industries flew to Mohali by private jet to attend the match.

Crowds were rooting for the Indian team yesterday at the Cafe Mondegar in downtown Mumbai, where Ajay Jain, a travel agency executive wearing face paint, laughed as he confessed that he had called in sick that morning to "watch the action live".

But not all companies were willing to allow the match to interrupt routine. Imamat Naqvi, an executive vice president of the Pakistani-owned Habib Bank AG Zurich in Abu Dhabi, said it was business as usual yesterday, although "some very special enthusiasts may try to sign off early".

"We are here for business, not for cricket," he added.