Abdul Rahman Bukhatir and Asif Iqbal had a vision - a
vision to transform the sand dunes of Sharjah into the
new Mecca of cricket, the epithet quality of that
phrase notwithstanding. And so were the seeds of
cricket sown in the torrid desert region, where the
only other vegetation that grows in those sands are
ones that come with thorns.
Flagged off with Asia Cup
in 1984, Sharjah started drawing attention of cricket
enthusiasts, players and watchers alike, and the
initial matches between the Asian cricketing
neighborns, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka proved a
good staple to the starved public, besdies dates.
India, fresh from their success at the Prudential Cup
(and erasing the couple of odd memories in the revenge
series against West Indies played at home, in both
varieties of the game), started off well at Sharjah
winning every possible cup, Asia Cup, Rothmans Cup,
Champions trophy, fielded by Bhukatir, almost
everytime at the expense of Pakistan.
The images of
Surinder Khanna and Gulam Parkar staving off the pace
attack of an otherwise depleted Pakistan bowling
battery, sans Imran Khan and Sarfraz Nawaz, found a
mind-numbing recurrence in the warm-up matches and
final games in the initial couple of tournaments.
Another triangular series with India, Pak and SL,
another India and Pak finals, sidelining Sri Lanka
without breaking any sweat, another India win
trouncing Pakistan in the final - these remained as
permanent a fixture at Sharjah as camels and sheiks in
that desert region.
Just when the interest started to
dip in Sharjah, did the magical match happen between
the warring neighbors, that made everybody sit up and
give the graceful host one more chance. And it
involved one of the pathetic batting displays ever put
up by both the teams...
It was notsomuchas a pathetic batting display, but a
great bowling show by both the teams and a magical
come-around by India that started a series of
nail-biters and nerve-wrackers, whenever India and
Pakistan showed up at the coin toss at the Sharjah
Imran, fresh into the team after a
career-threatening injury, scythed through the Indian
team to reduce it to a paltry 125 at the end of the
allotted overs, earning his career-best 6/14 in the
What had transpired in the Indian dressing
room during that lunch period was anybody's guess. Did
they have a strategy for such situation? Were they
prepared to face the crowd after such a disappointing
batting display? Did they even eat?
If the final match
at Lords during the Prudential Cup an year ago taught
the world anything, it is that no score was too low to
defend and no match was ever over until the final
over. With the likes of Mudassar Nazar, Mohsin Khan,
Javed Miandad, Rameez Raja and Salim Malik in the
wings (not to discount Imran with the bat), a score of
125 was just too ridiculous to defend and nobody would
have been shocked, had the Indians just conceded the
match without bowling a single ball.
What happened in
the second innings of that match was the stuff lores
and legends were made of. A team that got through till
around 50 without any wicket withered under a combined
attack of stifling consistency and immaculate fielding
to be reduced to a paltry 87. Talk about shock and
The image of the dimunitive wicket keeper Ashraf
Ali dancing down expecting a flighted delivery from
L.Sivaramakrishnan and dancing all the back to the
crease when given a shorter than good length, to
finally chase the sharply turning ball into the hands
of the hungry slips, summed up the match for India.
The situation at Sharjah became so one-sided that
Indians took the venue and Pakistan for granted until
that match happened...
The match ended with THE shot that was heard around
the world (or at least, the eastern half of it), and
as the beaten cliche would have it, it never was the
same again. The names Javed Miandad and Chetan Sharma
would resonate in people's minds in different ways - a
sheep slaughtered, a demon slain, the Pakistani
victory champaign bottle that would remain uncorked in
years to come, and the white cloth (kafan) drawn over
the dominance of India in Sharjah.
Thanks to all those
images, the name Sharjah became synonymous with
excitement. Viewers poured into the stands braving the
dry heat and the near inhuman temperatures, and
patiently waited for another of "those" matches to
happen, in the optimistic anticipation of becoming a
part of the cricket history.
Whenever India fell for a
cheap score, nobody wrote the team off, reminding
themselves of the numbers 125/87 constantly. Whenever
India made a big score, nobody moved from the stands
until the last ball was bowled, because, Mecca was
indeed the place of miracles, even it involved wooden
bats and leather balls. The year was 1985 that changed
It can be categorically stated that, that
match turned the fortunes for both Pakistan and India.
Though India came near winning close matches on a
couple of occasions, the unshakeable belief of the
Pakistani team in their ability to snatch victory at
any cost against any odds, saw to that India almost
never won a match again (leave alone the entire
tournament) in any series that involved Pakistan.
occasional Champions trophy when India were bowled out
to 140 odd runs and Maninder Singh spun his magic to
claim an almost hat-trick (3 wickets in 4 balls and
too the likes of Shoaib Mohammed, Javed Miandad and
Imran Khan) to see Pakistan teetering on the
precipitous edge of defeat, only to be pulled back by
a valiant effort from Mansoor Elahi towards victory,
explained it all for India. So near, yet never
Sharjah had also witnessed its fair share of glamor.
The glitterati of Hindi filmdom descending on the
dunes for all matches and sundry, Bukhatir playing a
graceful host to everybody - from a small time actors
to the legends of Bollywood to garner as much and any
publicity to the event as can be possible, the
sensible camera men (and the wise producers) turning
the spotlight on the actors and actresses at regular
intervals, the wise cracking commentators (Henry
Blofeld and his obsession with long ear-rings) joining
in on the fun - cricket became secondary at Sharjah,
vying for equal attention with the rest of the stars.
The immediate cutting to Amrita Singh in the box,
whenever something happened to Ravi Shastri on the
field, the full-throat laughter scenes of Anju
Mahendru, the bald pate of a grim-looking Feroz Khan,
the occasional shots of Dawood Ibrahim cozying up with
the flavor of the month starlets, the images of Javed
Miandad climbing up the seats in the premimum boxes to
reach up to people instead of talking the regular
route (a privilege granted only to people capable of
hitting a six of the last ball of the match to secure
a win) - Sharjah had it all.
It pleased the eye, the
pleased the heart and it pleased the mind. All good
times had to end, and it was no different for Bukhatir
India finally put an end to its misery in
its own way - it refused to participate in any further
matches since the late 90s. While BCCI blamed it on
match fixing, the others viewed India as a sour puss,
unable to take the mounting pressure at home, both on
the players and selectors, losing to Pakistan every
other day in every match.
Through all the changing times and changing teams, the
sand dunes had buried in itself a horde of fond
memories to the cricket fans the world over. And here
is to a fitting start of another era in Abu Dabhi,
when the old rivals shared the honors in the
first-ever tournament and promised to revive and
relive the old memories...just for old times' sake...