UAE cricket history: From matches at military bases in 1892 to own T20 league in 2021

A closer look at the journey the game has taken in the Emirates

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If the UAE is to add a franchise T20 competition to its calendar this year, it will represent a new highlight in the evolution of the sport in the country.

On Tuesday, it was announced Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the Emirates Cricket Board chairman, has sanctioned the event, which could potentially start in December.

The ECB hope it will help hasten the development of its own players, meaning trips to World Cups – like in 1996 and 2015 – could become a more regular occurrence.

In many ways, the new competition could be like Sharjah Cup 2.0, a modern-take on the tournaments which made the emirate a major centre for international cricket in the 1980s and ’90s.

Even beyond its roots in Sharjah, the UAE has shown it does a good line in cricket entertainment through the course of its history. Here is a timeline of how the game has developed in this country.


Cricket was often played on military bases across the country, where British forces were positioned after the 1892 treaty was signed with the Trucial States.


Two years before the formation of the UAE, Darjeeling CC was created by a group of expatriates. Their ground, a cement wicket with sand outfield adjacent to the Dubai Exiles rugby club and Dubai Country Club in Al Awir, was bulldozed in 2008 to make way for the Meydan project. But the club remains in existence to this day.


Abdul Rahman Bukhatir, an Emirati construction magnate who had fostered a love for cricket while at school in Karachi, started a domestic cricket league in his native Sharjah. The eponymous Bukhatir League provided formal competition for the influx of cricket-loving expatriate workers from the subcontinent.


More than 3,000 spectators – including Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi - attended a match between leading players from the local cricket scene and a Pakistan International Airlines touring team in Sharjah. The match was an indicator of the popularity for the sport, which informed Bukhatir’s plan to build a cricket stadium in the city.

FOR SPORT MEMORY LANE SERIES - The two captains after the toss during a match between Gavaskar XI and Miandad XI at Sharjah Cricket Stadium, April 3 1981. Photo Courtesy: The Cricketer Pakistan *** Local Caption ***  9.jpg


On April 3, the Sunil Gavaskar XI played the Javed Miandad XI on a grass field in front of over 8,000 fans at the new Sharjah Cricket Stadium. The fixture set the template for major matches involving some of the stars of the game from across the world.


The first official one-day international was played at Sharjah Cricket Stadium, with Sri Lanka beating Pakistan by five wickets. Thirty-five years later, the ground holds the world record for hosting the most number of ODIs. The Sharjah Cup became a forebear for the sort of “cricketainment” seen in tournaments like the IPL.


The Emirates Cricket Board was formed, and joined the ICC as an Affiliate member.


A national cricket team led by Sultan Zarawani, an Emirati businessman-come-leg-spinner, competed at the ICC Trophy in Kenya. The UAE beat the home team in the final, to celebrate qualifying for the World Cup for the first time.

United Arab Emirates batsman Saleem Raza sees the bails flying as he is bowled by England's Dominic Cork during the Cricket World Cup match in Peshawar February 18. UAE was all out for 136.



A debut appearance at a World Cup brought with it its challenges for the national team, playing against the top sides in the sport. But they did gain their first ODI victory. Saleem Raza hit six sixes in an innings worth 84, as they beat the Netherlands by seven wickets in Lahore.


The ICC closed its office at the Nursery End at Lord’s and moved to Dubai. Cricket’s governing body initially moved to a temporary office in Al Thuraya Tower in Media City, from where the sport was run for the next four years.

Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National


Pervez Musharraf, the former Pakistan president, was in attendance as Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi was inaugurated. The new ground, with its striking, futuristic grandstand, played host to a two-match ODI series between India and Pakistan.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: N/A: Stock. General view of the ICC (International Cricket Council) headquarters located in Sports City, Dubai. Wednesday, May 20th, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National


In August, the ICC moved from Media City and into its own purpose-built facility in Dubai Sports City. Three days later, just down the road in the new development off the old Emirates Road, Dubai International Stadium hosted its first match, an ODI between Pakistan and Australia.

It was the same year in which Sri Lanka’s team bus was attacked en route to a Test match in Lahore. The UAE became a home for Pakistan in exile for the next decade because of security reasons.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, November 13, 2013:       UAE wicket keeper Muhammad Shafiq attempts to stump Denmark batsman Pawan Kumar, not pictured, during a friendly match ahead of the World T20 Qualifiers at the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi on November 13, 2013. Christopher Pike / The National

Reporter: Amith Passela
Section: Sport *** Local Caption ***  CP1113-UAE vs Denmark Cricket017.JPG


For the first time, the national team made it to the World Twenty20. Qualification was secured via a 16-team competition played on home soil in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. It set up the busiest year in international cricket for the UAE.

Khurram Khan is one of the greatest players to have represented the UAE. Getty Images


Before playing at the T20 World Cup, the thriving national team achieved something even more significant. Thanks largely to the excellence of their captain Khurram Khan they earned qualification to the 50-over World Cup, at a competition in New Zealand.

Between doing that and heading to Bangladesh for the 20-over version, their Under 19 counterparts played in a World Cup on home soil. South Africa, led by the likes of future Test stars Kagiso Rabada and Aiden Markram, beat Pakistan in the final of that tournament in Dubai.

As if all the World Cup excitement was not enough, the UAE also staged the IPL for the first time. Government elections in India meant a strain on security resources, so the first 20 games of the tournament were relocated to the Emirates. The matches were played out in front of packed stadiums.

UAE players Khurram Khan, left, and Krishna Karatechat during their Cricket World Cup Pool B match against the West Indies in Napier, New Zealand, Sunday, March 15, 2015. Ross Setford / AP Photo


Nineteen years after their first appearance on the world stage, the national team played at their second 50-over World Cup. Success proved difficult to come by again, as the UAE lost all of their matches in Australia and New Zealand.

Players from the Islamabad United team celebrate winning the final of the Pakistan Super League against Quetta Gladiators at the Dubai cricket stadium on February 23, 2016. AFP


The franchise cricket boom hit the UAE when two star-laden competitions were launched in Dubai and Sharjah more or less simultaneously.

Five years on, the Pakistan Super League continues to thrive, and has now returned back to its homeland, too.

The Masters Champions League, though, did not survive past its first season. A competition that had a glitzy launch at the Burj Al Arab, and involved some of the sport’s most famous retired players, had a variety of funding issues.

Domestically, leading cricketers were given a boost as the ECB centrally contracted a group of professional players for the first time.

SHARJAH , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , DEC 17  – 2017 :- Ahmed Shehzad of Pakhtoons team hitting a six during the 2nd semi-final against Punjabi Legends in the T10 Cricket League held at Sharjah Cricket Stadium in Sharjah.  (Pawan Singh / The National) Story by Paul Radley


The country had its own franchise league for the first time, when the T10 League was launched in Sharjah. The 10-over competition was sanctioned by the ECB and ICC, but independently financed and run. Many household names from the international game have played since, with the competition moving to Abu Dhabi after two seasons in Sharjah.

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, September 28 , 2018 :- Members of the Indian cricket team celebrating after winning the final of Unimoni Asia Cup UAE 2018 cricket match beating Bangladesh at Dubai International Cricket Stadium in Dubai. ( Pawan Singh / The National )  For News/Sports/Instagram/Big Picture. Story by Paul


Perhaps the biggest international tournament yet to be staged in the Emirates took place when the Asia Cup was played across Abu Dhabi and Dubai. India won the tournament, beating Bangladesh in the final.

The host country did not feature, though. UAE were beaten by Hong Kong in the final of the qualifying tournament in Malaysia.

A first attempt at a T20 competition – UAE T20X – fell through just before the player draft was due to take place.

Mumbai Indians players with the trophy during the final of season 13 of the Dream 11 Indian Premier League (IPL) between the Mumbai Indians and the Delhi Capitals held at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on the 10th November 2020.  Photo by: Vipin Pawar  / Sportzpics for BCCI


After the global pandemic took hold, the IPL was suspended for months. It eventually went ahead, albeit outside India amid exhaustive bio-securing measures in the UAE. The competition was deemed an unqualified success. During the course of the event, the ECB and its counterparts in India signed a hosting agreement, suggesting more collaboration between the two is likely in future.