Imran Tahir's dash from Pakistan in vain as he is forced to watch from car as InterGlobe Marine triumph in the Bukhatir League final

PCR test results arrives too late for Tahir, but he sees Rahul Sharma shine in victory over Bukhatir XI

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A day that started with a world star making a mad dash from Pakistan to play in a Sharjah cup final ended with a fallen India star celebrating the latest step on his career resurrection.

As soon as it was announced the PSL had been postponed on Thursday, Imran Tahir packed his bags, said goodbye to his Multan Sultans colleagues, and made a beeline for the UAE.

The South Africa leg-spin titan had played in two pool matches for InterGlobe Marine in the Bukhatir League before he headed to Pakistan.

He was intent on re-joining his mates in Sharjah for the final of the 46th Bukhatir League, which is the oldest and most prestigious tournament in UAE domestic cricket.

All it needed was a fair wind - and a negative PCR test. As it turned out, neither arrived in time.

Such was the excitement over his arrival, the match was delayed for an hour. Even though the opposition in the final – Bukhatir XI – are nominally the team of the tournament organisers, special dispensation was given for Tahir to join in, right up until the first ball was bowled.

While the sides lined up for the national anthem on the field, Tahir sat in the car park alone outside, refreshing his mobile phone in the hope the report would arrive.

Multan Sultans' Imran Tahir celebrates the dismissal of Quetta Gladiators' Saim Ayub (not pictured) during the Pakistan Super League (PSL) T20 cricket match between Quetta Gladiators and Multan Sultans at the National Stadium in Karachi on March 3, 2021.       (Photo by Asif HASSAN / AFP)

“Imran’s report had not come, so we did not want to take a risk and, quite rightly, the Sharjah management said we couldn’t anyway,” Aman Maulvi, the InterGlobe Marine owner said.

“He wanted to participate in the grand finale. We have a very good relationship with Imran, and he is the one who motivates our team. We were losing some matches, and he came in and lifted up the players.

“When the PSL was postponed, we were immediately on the phone to him, as this is a big tournament.

“We wanted him, because everyone knows what sort of player he is. Single-handedly he can change a match.

“Immediately he did his packing, and within two hours everything was done. But the flight was delayed for five hours, and that was our hard luck.

“He got his report back two or three hours after the match started.”

Luckily for InterGlobe Marine, a shipping company who started entering their staff cricket team in domestic competition six years ago, they already had a decent leg-spinner ready and available.

: Imran Tahir was initially listed in the InterGlobe Marine starting line up for the Bukhatir League final, in the hope he would receive a negative PCR result in time. It was negative, but arrived after the match had started.

Rahul Sharma certainly showed his class in the final. He took four wickets as a Bukhatir XI stacked with batting excellence crumbled to 175 all out, setting up a landslide seven-wicket win for InterGlobe Marine.

While this is the leading competition for UAE cricketers, it is fair to say Sharma has played cricket for markedly higher stakes in the past.

After excelling in the IPL, he had played six limited-overs internationals for India up until 2014. He had worn the blue of India alongside Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni, and dismissed batsmen of the standing of Kieron Pollard, Mahela Jayawardene and Michael Clarke.

But his career stalled after a back injury following the 2015 IPL, which led to sciatica and then surgery.

Now 34, he still harbours dreams of a return to the top of cricket, and is back training with Punjab’s Ranji Trophy side.

“I felt pain even walking, my rhythm was off when I was bowling, but slowly, slowly I’ve been trying to make it back,” Sharma said.

“Cricket gave me a lot. I’m from a [low-income] family, and they gave me everything so I could play cricket. After that, I want to give back.

“I was blessed to have played with Sachin [Tendulkar], VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid. They were all players when I came into the team, and that was the best moment of my life.”

Coincidentally, playing in the Bukhatir League has meant a return to the ground where he played his penultimate match in big league cricket, when the IPL was exiled to the UAE in 2014.

“I remember watching Sachin Tendulkar playing at this ground,” Sharma said.

“When I was young, we didn’t have a TV, so I had to watch it outside, at someone else’s home.

“Then I came to play here in the 2014 IPL, and those are cherished memories as well. This is the first time I have been back since 2014, so this is a good experience for me.”

Sharma reckons “nobody recognised me” as the player who had hit the heights of his profession, but says he is doing his best to get back to that point.

“I am working hard to get back there, but I am very true to myself,” Sharma said.

“I know I have to prove myself, and try to be perfect. I need to be 35 to 40 per cent better. After surgery, I am getting there, as hopefully you can see here.

“It has been a long time since I played high-level cricket. In four or five years, I have not played many matches.

“But I am getting my rhythm back, I have been training with Punjab probables, and this is a big tournament for me as part of my comeback.

“I have been very low, and nobody recognised me or realised Rahul Sharma was still playing.

"But I know that I will always give 100 per cent because I love this game.”