Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 24 November 2020

This day that year - Sharjah Cricket Stadium hosts its first international match

Opening ODI of Asia Cup between Sri Lanka and Pakistan on April 6, 1984, put UAE stadium on the world map

Sharjah Cricket Stadium has hosted more one-day internationals than any other venue in the world.

Officially, it started on April 6, 1984, when Pakistan and Sri Lanka played what was also the first ever Asia Cup fixture.

The emirate had been a hotbed for the game for some time before that, though.

Matches were played at the Royal Air Force base in Sharjah in the 1950s.

But the city was really gripped by the game from the mid-1970s onwards, thanks to the influence of businessman Abdulrahman Bukhatir.

As a schoolboy in Karachi, the Emirati had become transfixed by the sport via BBC radio transmissions of Test cricket.

His heroes were the likes of Hanif Mohammed, Tiger Pataudi, Richie Benaud and Peter May.

When he returned home to Sharjah, and his business empire boomed, he set about building a cricket enterprise to do the same – and which would also benefit his heroes.

“I was 12 years old and the only Arab in the class,” Bukhatir said in 1984 of his roots in the game.

“Cricket was by far the most popular game and there was just no way I could refuse to join in, basically because everyone else played.

“I was not what you would call a ‘born cricketer’ but I managed to get a feel for the game and understand its finer points.

“There are so many aspects of cricket. It has a much wider scope than any other game that I know.”

The Bukhatir League was formed in 1974. It remains the premier domestic competition in the country, with its 46th running all ready to start before the coronavirus brought about the suspension of sport.

Cricket has a much wider scope than any other game that I know

Abdulrahman Bukhatir

In 1977, more than 3,000 spectators came to watch a match between Pakistan International Airlines and a team of locally based players in the city.

The pitch at that time was a concrete strip, with a grassless outfield – the sort of cricket that is still recognisable to many recreational players in the country.

The crowds, though, were proof of the fact that international touring sides were attractive to the local audience, in particular the South Asian expatriate workforce.

Proof, too, that Bukhatir might need to think about an upgrade on the scaffolding stands that held the crowds until that point.

It prompted the construction of the stadium, which remains surely the most atmospheric of all the UAE’s cricket venues.

While 1984 is the first officially listed ODI in Sharjah, 1981 was the pilot edition. More than 8,000 people came to watch a Sunil Gavaskar XI including the likes of Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Dileep Vengsarkar and Ravi Shastri take on a similarly starry Javed Miandad XI.

It was the first of the Cricketers Benefit Fund Series, and saw Hanif Mohammed – Bukhatir’s hero – and Asif Iqbal benefit to the tune of $50,000 each.

That was the same sum that India walked off with when they won the first official ODI series in Sharjah in 1984.

In the first over ODI to be held in Sharjah, Sri Lanka beat Pakistan by five wickets, with Roy Dias being named man of the match for an unbeaten 57 in the run-chase.

Pakistan managed 187-9 in 46 overs, with Arjuna Ranatunga picking up 3-38. The Sri Lankans chased down the target with 15 balls to spare.

Updated: April 6, 2020 09:13 AM

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