On this day, April 16, 2014: Virat Kohli and IPL circus comes to UAE

A look back on when the world's most lucrative cricket league came to the Emirates

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Cricket might have a long and storied heritage in the UAE. But when the Indian Premier League arrived in the country for the first time in 2014, it was a different spectacle to anything that had gone before.

The first 20 matches of IPL 7 were brought to the Emirates on account of security reasons. That phase of the competition coincided with government elections back at home.

It was impossible to police both that and the world’s biggest cricket league, so the IPL went into a brief exile – just as it had done to South Africa in 2009.

In so many ways, it was an easy decision to switch to UAE. Given the make up of the population, with its huge community of cricket-loving Indian expats, it was basically a straight swap.

Plus it was close to home, anyway. It takes around the same amount of time to fly from Abu Dhabi to Mumbai, for example, as it does from Delhi to Bangalore or Chennai.

But this event was still entirely removed from anything that had gone before in this country.

Putting on what is essentially a domestic league was an international operation. It was an Indian competition, transposed to the Middle East, aired by a broadcaster based in Singapore, with a Belgian at the helm of the TV production.

Peter van Damm, the senior planning manager for Live, the Abu Dhabi-based productions company, oversaw the broadcast of the opening game, on this day six years ago.

A fixture between Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders might have pitted a variety of cricket’s best-known players against each other, but it meant little to Van Damm.

All he was concerned with was trying to “guarantee to give the same standard as IPL provides the viewers in India” from the TV production at the Zayed Cricket Stadium.

His company, who were more used to shooting football, jiu-jitsu and camel racing, used the biggest of their fleet of nine outside broadcast trucks for the occasion – a beast named “Al Jawzaa”.

On the field, Kolkata Knight Riders got a season that would end with them winning the title in Bangalore off to a successful start, as they trounced Mumbai by 41 runs in front of a packed house in the capital.



A day later, the IPL caravan moved 150kms up the coast to Sharjah. The city with the longest affiliation with top-class cricket in the UAE lapped up a fixture between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Delhi Daredevils.

In many ways, Sharjah had been the forebear for competitions like this. The scene was splashed with a more colourful palette now, but the frenzy the cricket created was every bit like the Sharjah Cup of its 1980s heyday.

“We got used to it,” Mazhar Khan, the long-term administrator of Sharjah, said after watching Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh make the old ground appear like a postage stamp.

“Every six months there used to be cricket here and it was the same old excitement all the time. But I think after a gap, this is a totally different feeling.”