*The Sharjah stadium in its nascent stage.
It would be suffice to say that Sharjah was the key to the evolution of the shorter version of the game, we are talking of 50 over ODI’s, right. The stadium was the brainchild of Sheikh Abdul Rahman Bukhatir, an Arabian entrepreneur who was fascinated by the game so much so that he decided the unthinkable- Cricket in the desert , something that raised quite a few eyebrows then. Who would go and ‘bask’ in the scorching 45 degree sun and frequent sand winds must have been the common notion in most people’s eye. Anyway, he went ahead with the overambitious project that led to the establishment of the skeleton of the structure that was to fascinate the world cricket for two decades. It would not surprise a lot of people to find out that it was nothing more than a 22-yard strip surrounded by a little grass and a lot of golden-brown stuff and yes a temporary arrangement to hold in a few hundred people( and camels too!!). The establishment of cricketers benefit fund series(CBFS) which was to turn into Retired Cricketers Benefit Fund (RCBF) in 1981 was what garnered a lot of goodwill and a positive kernel around the whole idea. Initially a lot of double-wicket tournaments were held which involved a variety of international stars from the likes of a street-smart Javed Miandad to the great Dennis Lillee.
*Shaikh Abdul Rahman Bukhatir-The initiator
India’s world cup win in 1983 and its commitment to indulge in frequent tours along with traditional rivals Pakistan and occasional appearances from Australia, West Indies and others were also pivotal in gaining the much needed impetus at the early stages. But what really helped the cause of cricket in the desert was the presence of a huge sub-continent based population( mainly expats.) and presence of celebrities from film industry and if does make sense then crime or the underworld industry as well. All of this along with some fantastic cricket played especially some tight games between the two sub-continental giants(like the one in 1986 where Javed Miandad became the biggest fear in the minds of Indian cricketers and fans alike or the one where india defended a 120-odd score by bowling out Pakistan for some 80-odd) added to the building glory.
*A regular sight of the nineties.
In the coming years with all these factors, inclination towards the shorter format and the shift of power initiated in mid-nineties made Sharjah the ultimate destination for cricket from a holistic point of view-something that can be verified by the simple fact that it remained the top cricketing venue in terms of number of ODI matches(198) for a long time. The coming years saw fantastic developments in the infrastructure to match the best in the world with lush green outfield, erection of stands, upheaval of capacity to 27,000(in 2002) and installation of floodlights( a novelty then).The biggest boost has to be the successful organisation of the 1996 cricket world cup in the subcontinent, this event saw a remarkable increase in the number of matches that were held and keener participation from countries like South Africa, New Zealand and England. The yearly meet morphed into a biennial meet with tournaments in April and October. Amidst all this there was high energy and high adrenalin cricket-Could anyone forget Tendulkar’s Sharjah storm or Wasim Akram and co.’s school of reverse swing which was taken to a higher level at a place none other than Sharjah.
Like everything good, the journey ended on a very bitter note, triggered by the match fixing fiasco and forged by scapegoat-politics. Attempts of revival faced huge setback with due importance given to Abu Dhabi as a venue and repeated snubbing by the cricketing authorities……Sharjah deserved better, It’s no bigger match-fixing hub than anyplace else in subcontinent or the world to that matter. But no one can forget the remarkable journey and the charm that it possessed mesmerised one and all, Sharjah will always be the darling in the hearts of millions and no one can take that away. It was an oasis that has dried up after satiating thirst of many wanderes.
*The Abu Dhabi cricket stadium was the final nail in the coffin.
*All that remains is the nostalgia.