Sharjah: India and Pakistan are all set to play each other in Dubai on August 28 and as has always been the case, a different enthusiasm is being seen in the spectators today, we take you to the day of April 13, 1984, when the first official match was played between India and Pakistan in Sharjah on UAE soil.
It was also the first Asia Cup for which the Asian Cricket Council was established and also the first office of the ACC (Asian Cricket Council) was built in the building of Sharjah Stadium. Mazhar Khan, the general manager of Sharjah Cricket Stadium, says that at that time it was part of the management. “I came from Hyderabad in 1975 and cricket was taking shape in Sharjah. The establishment of the ACC in 1983 and the announcement of the Asia Cup created tremendous excitement among all of us. UAE was also the founding member of ACC, so UAE got the chance for the first Asia Cup. I remember from that match that around 8000 people came to watch the match and more than 5000 people were standing outside in line. Since the seating arrangement was not very much at that time, we increased seating arrangement by installing scaffolding. The basic ticket price for that match was only 20 dirhams. Tickets for the India vs Pakistan match were sold out within a few days and the tournament was attended by many Bollywood and Pakistan stars. It seemed that a fair was held outside the stadium”, Khan explained.
Recalling the first Asia Cup between India and Pakistan, Shyam Bhatia, a business man, cricket aficionado and one of the founding members of cricket in UAE, says, “If I talk about the matches between India and Pakistan in Sharjah, there have been many such matches when India won where victory was snatched from the mouth of Pakistan. One of the hair-raising matches was the India-Pakistan match of the Rothman Asia Cup which took place on April 13, 1984.”
Bhatia further explained the pre-tournament hospitalities, “Usually, before the tournament, I used to meet the players or invite them to my house. During that time India became the new World Cup champion but due to some reason Kapil was not involved in that series, and my friend Sunil Gavaskar used to be the captain. We were discussing that Pakistan will take revenge for the World Cup and Kapil Dev was also not on the team. India started their innings and in this match of 46 overs, wicketkeeper Surender Khanna made a good start with 56 runs and Sandeep Patil with 43, India had a slow start but the score of 150 in this match of 46 also seemed difficult.That’s when Gavaskar took command and played fast and scored 36 runs in 55 balls somehow India could make a total of just 188, but in that match, India lost only 4 wickets and Sunil Gavaskar was not out.”
“That day was a Friday and the matches on Friday used to have longer break times due to Friday prayers. We, Indian supporters, were a little disappointed and there was also a belief that Pakistan wins in Friday’s matches, so Pakistani supporters were looking a bit more excited. Pakistan started the innings and the Indian supporters prayed and prayed. Within the first 100 runs, Pakistani lost 4 wickets and in the next 34 runs, they lost the remaining 6 wickets which was unbelievable! In that match, India displayed excellent fielding, India scored 4 run-outs and Surender Khanna made 2 stumpings. So in this way 6 out of 10 wickets came from the fielding Kamal who put the victory in India’s bag. Man of the match was also given to Surendra Khanna. It was a breathtaking match for the Pakistani supporters in which what seemed an easy victory was won by India on their fielding that day,” he explained.
The match had so much emotional backing behind it that we heard later Pakistani taxi drivers refused to take the Indian riders back from the stadium after Pakistan lost. Undeterred and jubilant, Indian supporters went home on foot celebrating the victory.
But if we talk about the matches played in Sharjah, it is important to know that although the official matches may have started in 1984, a match in Sharjah Stadium was played between India and Pakistan way back in 1981. Air India’s veteran cricketer and Emirates Cricket Board’s ex-selector, Mohd. Lokhandwala explains that there was no grass pitch available in Sharjah at that time and the match was played on a cement pitch. This unofficial first match was between two teams led by cricket legends Gavaskar XI and Miandad XI respectively.
Before we delve further in the details, let me take a quick detour in memory lane to the question: How did Sharjah become the cricket madina? It all started when Abdulrahman Bukhatir, a young boy from Sharjah, was studying in the famous NJV school in Karachi during 1960-70. During his stay, he became fascinated by the game of cricket played locally. So much so that he picked up the willow bat himself and learnt to play cricket with his peers.
After completing his studies, Bukhatir returned to the Emirates with dreams in his eyes and a passion to succeed. He later went on to establish a vast trading empire in the UAE. But that is not all he achieved. Bukhatir brought back his love for cricket to the UAE. The Sharjah Cricket Association was founded by him in 1974 and for the first time in February 1976, Abdulrahman Bukhatir invited a strong Pakistani home team to play two 50-over games against a local XI. It was the first tour of Sharjah by any foreign team.
Coming back to the Gavaskar XI and Miandad XI match, Bukhatir planned a charitable match for Pakistan batsman Hanif Mohammad. It was a challenge to get players from India and Pakistan to play together in that charity match. In October 1980, Bukhatir bought a large plot of land of about 200,000 square meters. After levelling they managed to grow grass outside the field. He laid an astroturf mat on a cement wicket. Scaffolding structures were placed on either side of the wicket for spectators with two scaffoldings. Dressing rooms were temporary structures, and players had to go to the Sharjah Football Club’s dining hall for lunch.
Abdulrahman Bukhatir’s colleague and Pakistani cricketer Asif Iqbal were talking to new and old players from India and Pakistan. The US$ 200,000 prize money match was played on 3 April 1981 between Sunil Gavaskar XI and Javed Miandad XI which can be said to be the first match played at Sharjah ground. The match was the first match to be played under the banner of the Cricketers Benefit Fund Series (CBFS) and a 15-member committee was constituted to run it.
Everything was set. Tickets were sold at Indian and Pakistani restaurants, with the cheapest being AED25. Advertisements and posters for the game were all over the place and local newspapers gave the required coverage in the build-up. The organizers were initially concerned about whether people would come or not. According to reports, more than 8,000 visitors from all the Gulf countries reached Sharjah just to attend the historic match! Sources report almost the same number could not enter as well.
Asif Iqbal, while talking to the media after the match said, “Before the match started we were really unsure whether people would come or not, but by the end, we were worried if the scaffolding made for the spectators could hold all the people or not!”. It was an India-Pakistan match and it completely changed the history of cricket.
The match was unusually sluggish. Gavaskar XI scored only 139 runs and Miandad’s team chased him comfortably. Miandad XI was presented $25,000 (AED91,828) and Gavaskar XI $15,000 (AED55,097). The late Taslim Arif was the man of the match and Gavaskar won a television set award as the highest run-scorer Indian. The match was so successful that it was swiftly planned to stage one match every year.
The following year, not one but two more games were held between the Indian and Pakistani sides. Months later, in September, the board of the subcontinent established the Asian Cricket Council. Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka would soon be playing at the first Asia Cup in 1984 on the same ground. The first match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka on 6 April 1984 became the first officially recognized ODI match at the Sharjah Cricket Association Stadium.
After 38 years, the Sharjah Cricket Stadium has still not lost its charm. Die-hard lovers of cricket like myself, become nostalgic while recalling the innumerable wins and loses forever etched in our memories like monuments to history.
India Pakistan Cricket Sharjah India Pakistan Cricket Sharjah India Pakistan Cricket Sharjah