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Genesis of UAE cricket 1974-84

A.R.Bukhatir with Asif Iqbal & Javed Miandad
A.R.Bukhatir with Asif Iqbal & Javed Miandad
A.R.Bukhatir with Asif Iqbal, Javed Miandad, Qasim Noorani & Urdu commentator, Munir Hussain
A.R.Bukhatir with Asif Iqbal, Javed Miandad, Qasim Noorani & Urdu commentator, Munir Hussain
Cricketers’ Benefit Fund Series
Cricketers’ Benefit Fund Series
Javed Miandad with Ali Jafri, Saleem Pervez & Humayun Soomar
Javed Miandad with Ali Jafri, Saleem Pervez & Humayun Soomar
M.U.Haque with a curator - Sharjah 1984
M.U.Haque with a curator - Sharjah 1984
Gavaskar XI vs Miandad XI - Sharjah - April 1981
Gavaskar XI vs Miandad XI - Sharjah - April 1981
UAE players - 1970s
UAE players - 1970s
UAE players - 1980s
UAE players - 1980s
A.R.Bukhatir @ the opening of the first turf wicket @ Sharjah, 1984
A.R.Bukhatir @ the opening of the first turf wicket @ Sharjah, 1984
Mohammad Ishaque - Sharjah CC & Head Curator at Sharjah.
Mohammad Ishaque - Sharjah CC & Head Curator at Sharjah.
Mohammed Redha Abbas (left) and Abdul Rahman Falaknaz - Dubai Cricket Council
Mohammed Redha Abbas (left) and Abdul Rahman Falaknaz - Dubai Cricket Council
A.R.Bukhatir with Indian film star Dilip  Kumar & Ijaz ‘Khapra’ - Sharjah.
A.R.Bukhatir with Indian film star Dilip Kumar & Ijaz ‘Khapra’ - Sharjah.
Sharjah CC in India - 1982
Sharjah CC in India - 1982

The significance of Sri Lanka’s Vinothen John’s opening delivery to Pakistan’s Mohsin Khan at Sharjah on April 6, 1984 didn’t go amiss to either historians or the administrators of the game, for it was the beginning of a new chapter in international cricket.

The inaugural Asia Cup encounter - first ever ODI to be staged in UAE with a pioneering concept of neutral umpires on both ends – was a dream-come -true for Emirati businessman Abdul Rahman (A.R) Bukhatir – also referred as the Kerry Packer of Gulf cricket.

The growth of the game in oil-rich Gulf states is evident from International Cricket Council (ICC) switching its headquarter from London to Dubai Sports City in 2005, the launching of ICC Global Cricket Academy and the present day state-of-the-art stadiums in Sharjah, Dubai & Abu Dhabi, offering Pakistan to play its ‘home’ internationals, in the period of 2002-19. The surge of cricket has been acknowledged by ICC in extending its associate membership to Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia & UAE and affiliate membership to Bahrain & Qatar.

Looking back, historically British Army had introduced the game of cricket to Ajman, Al Ain, Dubai and Sharjah in the early 20th century, in the region that was known as Trucial States and renamed United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 1971, following its independence from the British rule. There are recorded matches in the early ‘60s played by British army officers on the old Sharjah airport runways.

It was hard to imagine the game taking roots in the Arab-speaking states with almost little or no interest amongst the indigenous population. It was the arrival of the Asian male workforce, arriving in large groups from India, Pakistan and later from Sri Lanka in the 1970s in UAE, who would reignite the flame. Though arriving primarily in UAE for economic reasons and to fill the labour market in the Gulf, it simply could not resist the idea of leaving behind their passion for the game of cricket.

It was the determination of A.R. Bukhatir, founder of the Bukhatir Group, to bring cricket to Sharjah - one of the seven states of UAE. Though his business interests were in a number of domains including construction, he struck a match to the fire and with Qasim Noorani, his long-serving employee on his side in 1974, to form Sharjah Cricket Association and launched Bukhatir Cricket League (BCL) which still exists to this day. In the early days the cricket was played on a cement wicket, followed first by a rubber mat and an Astroturf laid on cement wicket before finally giving way to natural turf, by the time Sharjah staged the first ODI in 1984. Bukhatir would patronize a number of clubs and was interested in the participation of players with first-class cricket experience from Pakistan and offering both employment in his companies and cricket matches.

Bukhatir enrolled at the famous BVS Parsi High School, Karachi in the late 1960s, whereas two other leading UAE cricket officials - Abdul Rahman Falaknaz would spend some of his youth in Karachi too before switching over to Bombay (now Mumbai), and another renowned Emirati cricket administrator, Mohammed Redha Abbas studied in Bombay (now Mumbai). The son of a judge, Bukhatir was sucked into cricket in Karachi and developed great admiration for Hanif Mohammad, the first great Pakistan batsman. When Bukhatir returned to the Emirates, to establish a vast business empire, he brought cricket back with him.

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) led by Wasim Bari, in February 1976, became the first foreign team to visit UAE. The pioneering group of cricketers also included Majid Khan, Asif Masood, Zaheer Abbas, Imran Khan, Salahuddin, Ghulam Abbas and Mudassar Nazar, provided great entertainment to the crowd, at the time made up primarily of Pakistanis with few pockets of Indian nationals as well. The PIA team were the guests of Bukhatir and both the matches were played on cement wicket, in the middle of a sandy field in Sharjah.

Pace man Asif Masood, recalls, ‘umpires being furnished with a broom to sweep away the sandy dust that blew over the cement pitch, after every over.’ In the second match, a crowd estimated close to 5000, watched hundreds from Majid (108) and Mudassar (105) that powered PIA to 345-5 (50 overs). The UAE XI in reply were 88-4 (28 overs) which included 41 from ex-PWD batsman, Mahmood-ul-Hasan, before the match had to be abandoned due to rain. Fans had arrived to watch the match from Dubai and Abu Dhabi, only to be disappointed with an unexpected natural intervention, in that part of the world.

The presence of the Sharjah ruler, Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi, made the second match a major sporting occasion and it had received considerable publicity in the weeks prior to the day. In a dinner hosted for PIA at the end of the match, was an evening event which saw the tourists being awarded 7000 dirhams – Majid Khan DH 3000 from three donors, Mudassar Nazar DH 2000, Wasim Bari DH 1500 & Imran Khan DH 500 – in prize money.

Majid Khan, the only known player to have turned down a CBFS offer to become a beneficiary, recalls the experience, ‘In 1976 there was a talk of PIA team to tour Singapore, which didn’t have the novelty for some of us. With six or seven Test players in our PIA squad, instead I proposed to our Lahore-based District Manager, to take a side to Dubai. Once the head office in Karachi got the whiff of it, they decided to send a full-strength team –led by PIA captain Wasim Bari. We landed in Dubai with a curiosity to see if the indigenous population had taken to the game. It was also our first meeting with Bukhatir, who was very keen to see the game flourish in UAE and hence we were offered top of the range care during our tour.’

‘The two matches were played on a cement wicket at Sharjah, with the rest of the outfield, barren of any grass. The pavilion and dressing room were both make-shift arrangements. The prize money on offer for the team and individuals was unheard of in those times. I managed to score a hundred in one of the matches and was paid handsomely for it. I recall Zakir Butt of Railways in one of the opposing teams. In an evening event, at the end of the tour, a bat signed by all the players fetched a staggering amount of 40,000 DH, fuelled primarily by the cricketing rivalry’ of the two business families – Bukhatir and Galadaris. No wonder cricket associations, departments and clubs, all over from the sub-continent, were keen to tour UAE after PIA set foot in an unchartered territory.’

Mohammad Redha Abbas, an Emirati would become one of the best known administrators of the game in UAE, in his lifelong association with Dubai Cricket Council (DCC). In the period of 1981-2022, he served initially as secretary, treasurer and now in his present role as its vice-chairman, for over quarter of a century. Redha was also a member of Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) in the period of 1989-2015, the last twenty years of which he was also the Chairman of Selection Committee.

For Redha, the seeds of cricket were sown in his school days in Bombay (now Mumbai) where he did his senior Cambridge whilst admiring the blossoming of two young Asian batting stars. Sunil Gavaskar’s record-breaking aggregate of 774 runs on the 1970-71 tour of West Indies was followed by Zaheer Abbas’ 271 against England in 1971, which he watched on a black and white TV set, in Cumberland Hotel. Three years later in the 1974 summer, whilst on another training course in banking, he was present at The Oval, to see Pakistani’s masterful 240.

Redha, having worked, alongside Bukhatir ever since PIA team’s arrival in 1976, is an authority on UAE cricket history as he recalls the past events. As a commercial manager at Dubai Bank, he was responsible for production of match souvenir, advertising and ground hoarding, in that period. He adds, ‘ICC recognized the green shoots of cricket in UAE in 1984 and the game was fortunate to attract the attention of the Galadaris – Abdul Rahim, Abdul Wahab & Abdul Latif – whilst building their business portfolio in the UAE. I was an employee of Dubai Bank - owned by the Galadaris - and witnessed the family’s growing interest in cricket and later on establishing of ‘Galadari Cricket League’ which was played in Dubai, for a season or two.’

‘In 1976 a PIA team led by wicket-keeper Wasim Bari that also included some big names of Pakistan cricket, including Imran Khan, set foot on UAE at the invitation of A.R. Bukhatir and were catered for three nights by Abdul Latif Galadari at the newly built five-star Inter-Continental hotel in Dubai. ‘Bukhatir Cricket League’ and ‘Galadari Cricket League’ existed side-by-side in the two UAE states – now separated by half an hour road journey - and would agree to a series of matches between the strongest XI, made up from players of different teams in their respective leagues. The players in the initial phase were primarily the employees of the financial, construction and tourism industries and the teams that took the field were Bank of Oman, Galadari XI, Bukhatir XI, Valika XI, Shyam Bhatia XI, etc. in UAE, before the influx of players from India and Pakistan seeking jobs and an opportunity to continue with their cricket, over the weekend.’

‘Your main focus it seems is on the 1974-84 period of UAE cricket and with that reference, I recall Nazimabad Sports, led by Nasim-ul-Ghani touring UAE in December 1976. Few years down the line, Indian batsman (the late) Hanumant Singh captained State Bank of India for a short tour in 1981. The healthy competition between Bukhatir and Galadaris, certainly kept the game on the right track in terms of its growth.’

‘In the same period, I advised leg-spinner Abdul Qadir - who was introduced to me by Saleem Iqbal Chaudhry, a first-class cricketer from Lahore, for a job in Dubai Bank - to return back to Pakistan and hone his craft on turf wickets and not in UAE on cement. I also added that since senior leg-spinners - Intikhab Alam and Mushtaq Mohammad - were both coming to the end of their careers, it will open opportunities for him to play for Pakistan. Down the line, it was great to see Qadir take the position of the best wrist spinner in the world and his international standing was further enhanced after Imran Khan, took over as captain of Pakistan team in 1982.’

‘We all agree on the fact that the match between Gavaskar XI and Miandad XI at Sharjah in April 1981, was the turning point in the history of Gulf cricket. The CBFS (Cricketers’ Benefit Fund Series) executive members of the management committee featured A.R. Bukhatir, myself (Mohammed Redha Abbas), Abdul Rahman Falaknaz, Nasir Akram, Mohammad Ali Mulla, Asif Iqbal & Qasim Noorani. Sharjah-based cricket fanatic Bukhatir had prudently acquired the services of Asif Iqbal in 1980, after his retirement from international cricket. As a successful and well-known figure with a strong network in the game, Asif’s presence helped UAE to reach out to the cricket Boards and indeed to ICC, for the successful staging of tournaments, between the Test-playing nations. We were at a great advantage with Asif’s drive, commitment and vision to take UAE cricket forward and I personally doubt very much if CBFS concept could have had the same appeal and success, without him.’

‘The establishing of CBFS was set to be popular for it would provide financial incentive to both former and current players and Asif as one of the mastermind behind the concept, rightly so was one of the first beneficiaries along with the great Hanif Mohammad, of the 1981 fixture. The potential of growth of cricket in UAE was also appreciated by both the cricket Boards of India and Pakistan and not surprisingly full strength teams of the two countries, participated in front of a sizeable crowd, though with no infrastructure or stadium in place, just as yet. There were separate but small dressing rooms for each side and a make-shift stand, held together by a scaffolding, for the excitable crowd.’

Mahmood-ul-Hasan, former Karachi and PWD player, was based in UAE in 1975-90 period, ‘I played against PIA and scored an unbeaten 36, after coming one-down before the match was rained off. After my arrival in Dubai, invited by Abdul Wahab Galadari, my school friend at St. Patrick’s in Karachi. His family had originated from Iran and were well-known industrialists. In no time, I gauged the friendly ‘rivalry’ between Galadaris and their previous employee Abdul Rahman Bukhatir. Galadaris supported Dubai Cricket Association whereas Bukhatir financed Sharjah Cricket Association, established more or less at the same time.’

‘The two business tycoons got the ball rolling with ambition to build something unique in the UAE. In order to strengthen Dubai, from Pakistan I invited Ijaz ‘Khapra’ and Javed Bhatti, who both had experience of first-class cricket with Bahawalpur. We also had Mohammad Rahman Falaknaz, Mohammad Redha Abbas and Gul, who had executive roles in Dubai CA. A three-match series between Bukhatir XI and Galadari XI created great interest and was followed with keen interest by the expatriate population of India and Pakistan. With 5-6 players from Karachi, we won the series 3-0 and a prize money of DH 50,000. In this period we also invited PIA, North Nazimabad, State Bank of India, Air India and some clubs from England and made sure there was a brochure to go with all these events. Having been in UAE for five years, I was in a good position to brief Asif Iqbal about cricket in the region on his arrival in Dubai in 1980.’

The PIA team’s brief 3-day tour kick started exchanges of tour between Pakistan and UAE. With Karachi to Dubai air travel time just over two hours, it would soon become very attractive for private clubs and departmental teams to arrange for these tours.

In May 1978, Sharjah CA, toured Lahore with the squad made up of Zakir Butt ©, Ali Jafri, Abid Ali, Aslam Ali, Azhar Qureshi, Mohammad Nazir Sr., Munir Ahmed, Nasr-ud-din, Salim Iqbal, Tariq Bashir, Zahid Rashid and Zia-ur-Rehman. The team played matches against PIA, Income Tax and Lahore Gymkhana @ the picturesque Bagh-e-Jinnah ground and against Crescent CC at Aitchison College Ground, recording two wins and two defeats. Besides that the tourists also played matches in Rawalpindi, Faisalabad and Karachi. Leading the side in a few matches, this was Bukhatir’s first opportunity to engage and build his network amongst the players and officials of Pakistan.

In April 1979, Nazimabad Sports arrived in UAE and the squad included some household names, including Nasim-ul-Ghani, Sadiq Mohammad, Liaqat Ali, Ijaz ‘Khapra’, Izhar Siddiqi, Kamal Merchant, Faheem-ud-din, Khalid Alvi, Tariq Wahab and Shahid Pervez. The hosts were served well by the wrist spin of Ali Jafri, who will accompany the team for fixtures at home and on overseas tours.

Few weeks after that a squad under the banner of UAE Select XI undertook a tour to Sri Lanka and Pakistan which would feature Mohammad Ishaque, who initially played in 1975 and then would earn a name as the chief curator in Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Oman CC. Besides Ishaque, the touring squad consisted of Abid Ali, Aslam Ali, Azhar Qureshi, Pervez Tabassum (Assistant Manager), Ijaz ‘Khapra’, Mohammad Munir, Irshad Khan (Manager), Nasaruddin Khan and Mohammad Ashraf, Zafar Iqbal, Ali Jafri, Zia-ur-Rehman, Zahid Rasheed, Mohammad Yaqoob, Tariq Bashir, Lakshaman Jayawardene and Gamini Mananperi.

In November 1979 Sharjah won the four-nation Gulf Cup that also featured Bahrain, Qatar and the hosts, Kuwait. Azhar Qureshi, who had arrived in UAE from Lahore in 1976, once again proved a match winner as a batsman. Sharjah CC in the BCL did have some tough matches against Bank of Oman and Lanka Lions.

Hard on the heels of the India-Pakistan clash arrived a strong Habib Bank on April 7, 1981, when invited to play three matches in UAE – one in Abu Dhabi and two in Sharjah – though later changed to five. The 14-man Habib Bank squad, led by Javed Miandad, also featured Abdul Qadir, Abdu Raqeeb, Agha Zahid, Arshad Parvez, Aslam Qureshi, Azhar Khan, Jamshed Hussain, Liaqat Ali, Masood Iqbal, Mohsin Khan, Sultan Rana, Tehsin Javed and Zaheer Ahmed. They recorded victories against Contractors XI, Bankers XI, Sharjah CA and President’s XI with Agha Zahid (121) and Javed Miandad (126), the two centurions in these matches.

At the outset in the mid-1970s, there were 10-15 teams affiliated to Dubai Cricket Association (DCA) and would participate in Galadari League. The office bearers of DCA at the time included, Sheikh Mana Al Makhtoum (Chairman), Abdul Rahman Falaknaz (President), also cousin of Galadaris & Mohammad Redha Abbas (Secretary). This administration team organized former Pakistan batsman -Younis Ahmed’s two benefit matches, all sponsored by Galadaris. Aslam Ali, represented both his employers Bank of Oman and Galadaris during his stay in UAE, before returning to Karachi, few years back.

Falaknaz fell in love with the game whilst studying in Bombay and in 1981 according to him, there were 40 teams registered and close to 700 cricketers in various tournaments and matches under Dubai CA. Falaknaz also aimed to have three full-fledged cricket grounds with at least one turf and two cement wickets and State Bank of India was the first team to arrive as part of the development plan for cricket in Dubai. Galadaris, as one of the most prominent business families in UAE, backed Dubai Cricket Association. By 1982 we had Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi CA which would lead to Emirates Cricket Board, the governing body of the game in UAE.

In 1981 there was considerable buzz in UAE cricket circles, kicking off with two benefit matches, organized for Pakistan’s Younis Ahmed in Dubai, in the first week of March. An event of this size could not have been possible without the support and sponsorship of local business community in the two day-night matches. As a beneficiary, Younis was appointed captain of the joint team made up of players from India and Pakistan. The England XI, led by K.W.R. Fletcher also included B.L. D’Oliveira, F.M. Engineer and M.C.J.Nicholas, won both the matches staged at Al-Maktoum Stadium.

The star attraction in Dubai amongst some other big names was Pakistan all-rounder Imran Khan, who smashed 179 (13 fours, 18 sixes), primarily dealing with just boundaries, in the first match. The combined team that also featured M. Amarnath, S.A. Durrani, Saeed Ahmed, B.S. Bedi, S. Venkataraghavan, Wasim Raja and Mohammad Nazir, whilst the crowd got their money’s worth by watching some big names from the past and present. Mark Nicholas, now a renowned cricket commentator, at the time with Hampshire scored 109 not out & 89 with England XI winning both the matches.

In March 1982, The success of the previous year of Younis Ahmed’s two benefit matches, organised by Dubai International World Cricket, prompted Dubai Cricket Association to hold two 40 overs matches on March 18 and 19 at Al Maktoum Stadium between Combined XI and International XI. In the first match, there were three hundreds scored - Azmat Rana 130, M. Amarnath 137 & R.O. Butcher 115. The other players who participated were Younis Ahmed, Shafiq Ahmed, Mohammad Nazir Jr., Saeed Ahmed, D.B. Close, G.D. Barlow, P.H. Edmonds, V.A. Holder, S. Ramadhin, R.M.H. Binny, A.D. Gaekwad and K. Srikkanth, S.R.D. Wettimuny and former England captain, A.W. Greig.

Ali Jafri, does not need an introduction and is a well-known name in the UAE cricket circles – as a player, CBFS official and CEO of AJ Sports. In his words, ‘It was 1976 when I along with other six boys arrived in Sharjah, on the invitation of Bukhatir. We were a number of players that Bukhatir had in mind to keep us full-time in Sharjah by providing us with jobs and expecting them to take part in the infrastructure of the game in the state. Other first-class cricketers that arrived from Pakistan in the 1970s that I recall were Tehsin Javed, Mohammad Nazir Sr., Ijaz ‘Khapra’, Azhar Qureshi, Talat Butt, Tariq Bashir and big-hitting Humayun Soomar - mostly disgruntled and not happy with their career path.’

He further added, ‘I established myself in Sharjah CC – outright winners of BCL on eight occasions in the first decade - amongst the leading wicket-takers with my wrist spin and in April 1983 I picked up 5-29 on a rubber mat against an Invitation XI to win the National Bank of Sharjah Challenge Trophy. At the time I worked as an assistant accountant for one of Bukhatir’s project management companies. When he started bringing international cricket to Sharjah in 1981, I was assistant to Asif Iqbal who was the chief co-ordinator of CBFS. During my visits to England in the summer, I was taking back cricket equipment back to UAE for my friends which I carried on till 1983 which will eventually lead to the birth of AJ Sports in Dubai.’

The choice of Asif Iqbal, a shrewd cricket brain both as a world-class batsman and with his role in leading the voice of Pakistan cricketers’ stand against BCCP President A.H. Kardar in 1976 and recruitment of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket (WSC) in 1977, was well merited. Asif appreciated the professionalism in the game of cricket and it growing into an industry and not merely a sport, for he in 1964 started his Test career with a mere Rs.15 daily allowance. After his two meetings with Bukhatir in London and UAE, Asif accepted the challenge of bringing an Indo-Pak fixture to the Gulf. A large plot of land, estimated at 200,000 square meters, next to the Sharjah Sports Club, was to be the venue and it helped that Bukhatir had a construction company for he was able to employ enough workforce in turning the barren land into a cricket stadium.

April 3, 1981 will go down as the significant day in the history of cricket in Sharjah and UAE. In establishing CBFS with Bukhatir as its chairman, Sharjah CA would stamp its superiority over its rivals, Dubai CA. The build up to the match between Gavaskar XI and Miandad XI, included selling of tickets in Indian and Pakistani restaurants and the posters went up to ensure the news was spread in the cricket circles, all around the Gulf. The scepticism of the organisers turned into a delightful surprise for the attendance at the match was estimated at 8,000, with almost equal number unable to gate crash.

A 45-over match between India and Pakistan players proved a great success from the point of crowd participation. It was a contest in a neutral off shore venue, watched mostly by their countrymen – expatriate in UAE and neighbouring Gulf states. The match was played on a U.K. make of astro turf mat laid on a cement wicket. Gavaskar’s XI’s total of 139-8 (45 overs) was eclipsed with considerable ease by Miandad XI in 32.5 overs, for the loss of three wickets. Taslim Arif, the wicket-keeper, with an innings of 53 added 100 runs with fellow opener Sadiq Mohammed (49), to go with his three catches and a run out, was declared Man of the Match.

The prime aim to launch CBFS was to acknowledge and reward the services of Indian and Pakistani cricketers, both past and present. Besides the two beneficiaries – Hanif Mohammed and Asif Iqbal awarded US$ 50,000 apiece – the participating players of both teams too were not disappointed with the prize money on offer. M.K.Mantri, former Indian wicket-keeper and maternal uncle of S.M. Gavaskar, received $25,000 as one of the minor beneficiary. The match staged at a recently-upgraded Sharjah Cricket Stadium, with lush green outfield, a pavilion and a dressing room, didn’t carry the international status but was the first well-publicised cricket event under the banner of CBFS and Sharjah CA.

At the end of the match, Miandad XI pocketed $25,000 as winners and Gavaskar XI $15,000 as second best on the day. The successful staging of the match would prompt the management to plan a yearly event and create a slot for themselves in the international cricket calendar.

It is to be appreciated that Bukhatir, in his dual role as CBFS Chairman and chief patron of Sharjah CA, earned the respect of Indian and Pakistani cricket Boards and was never seen to be breaking away from the establishment and rewarding the players handsomely. He was keen to pay his personal tribute to Hanif Mohammad and establish Sharjah as an international venue, a vision he shared with Haseeb Ahsan, who would recommend Asif Iqbal as the best man to take the whole project forward.

In April 1982 a double-wicket competition was the main event in the CBFS International Cricket Week. In addition to that two 45-over per side one-day ‘international’ matches were to be played between Gavaskar XI and Intikhab XI named after the two major beneficiaries from India and Pakistan, who were awarded $50,000 each. The two former players – Subash Gupte and Nazar Mohammad – as two minor beneficiaries picked up $15,000. The two-match series was tied at 1-1 but Pakistan emerged as winners for their superior run rate to lift the Rothmans Trophy and Mudassar Nazar (115) was the only centurion and Imran Khan picked up four-wickets in each of the games.

A double-wicket competition was won by Imran Khan & Javed Miandad beating Kapil Dev & Sandeep Patil, with West Indies captain Clive Lloyd and England all-rounder Ian Botham, as two star attractions having accepted invitation to participate. The event was staged in between the two limited-overs matches at Sharjah cricket stadium, with its capacity having touched 10,000 and first-class facilities at the ground for the spectators and a commentary box that would feature the famous English author and broadcaster of Test Match Special fame - Henry Blofeld, who described Sharjah as ‘Oasis in a Desert’.

There was an added interest in the double-wicket competition for the expatriates with Sharjah represented by the pairing of Humayun Soomar and Mohammad Munir and Dubai by Zahid Hussain and Saleem Iqbal. The prizemoney for the competition, played on a blue-coloured mat, was put up by International Watch Co. Sharjah with Rothmans International, Bukhatir Investments Ltd., Gulf Air, Novotel Hotels, Bank of Baroda, Galadari Brothers, Khaleej Times and Gulf News as other sponsors, willing to explore the business potential, with new phenomena of cricket in the UAE.

A Dubai Bank cricket team arrived in Pakistan in September 1982 on the invitation of BCCP to play nine limited-overs matches, staged in Karachi, Multan, Faisalabad & Lahore. The 16-man squad included Saleem Iqbal (Captain), Mahmood-ul-Hasan (Vice –Captain), Raza Ali, Babar Nadeem, Sajjad Akbar, Shakeel Ahmed, Qaiser Mahmood, Javed Shabbir, Meraj-ul-Hasan, Arif Naqqash, Ghazan Iqbal, Abid Ali, Saeed Malik, Mushtaq Sohail, Zia-ur-Rehman and Khalid Mahmood. The tourists were managed by B. Sankara Ram, with Ali Sajwani as his assistant and Syed Sakhawat Ali, travelling as the co-ordinator of club. In the same month Sharjah CC toured India which featured Mohammad Ishaque, Azhar Qureshi, Mohammad Munir, M.U.Haque (part of CBFS management 1982-85), Ijaz ‘Khapra’, Ali Jafri, Mohammad Nazir Sr., Javed Malik, Humayun Soomar, Zafar Iqbal, Shahzad Altaf, Talat Butt, Tariq Bashir and Mohammad Ashraf.

In February 1983 a team made up of English Test and county stars - Barbicans International XI - toured the UAE and Bahrain. It was led by D.A. Graveney and also included M.W. Gatting, D. Lloyd, P.J.W. Allott, P. Lever, G.R.J. Roope and P.W.G. Parker. In the following month MCC team led by Richard Hutton, also featuring M.W. Gatting, N.G.B. Cook & Rajesh Maru, arrived in UAE on the invitation of Dubai Cricket Association, with a number of friendly matches against the local teams.

In March 1983, an England side on their way back from Australia stopped off for a game against a Pakistan XI. It was a third year of CBFS cricket event in Sharjah, which due to hectic schedules of the international teams, could only host a single fixture. The contest between Pakistan, led by Zaheer Abbas and England XI led by Robin Jackman was billed as the clash of the two leading all-rounders – Ian Botham and Imran Khan. Left-handed opener Graeme Fowler hit 108 but Pakistan chased down the target of 220 with 8 balls to spare to lift the Rothmans Trophy.

In the third year of its set-up, CBFS awarded handsome amount to the two major beneficiaries – Zaheer Abbas & G.R.Viswanath – and the two minor beneficiaries – Alim-ud-din & R.B. Desai. Gul Hameed Bhatti, a leading cricket statistician and observer in Pakistan, coined the idea of Sharjah, now with the crowd capacity reaching 10, 000, that will fill up the stands with expatriates from India, Pakistan & England, being a venue for off-shore Test matches in the near future.

In April 1983, a 14-man United Bank squad arrived on a short tour of Dubai. The squad was made up of Haroon Rasheed ©, Arif-ud-din, Ashraf Ali, Ehtesham-ud-din, Farooq Shera, Kamal Merchant, Khalid Irtiza, Khurshid Akhtar, Mahmood Rasheed, Mansoor Akhtar, Nasir Valika, Shahid Aziz, Sikander Bakht, Tauseef Ahmed & Waheed Mirza, with the management in the hands of Mirza Irfan Ali, S.M.Wasti & Ishaque Patel.

In 1976 Ijaz ‘Khapra’ arrived in Sharjah and carried on with club cricket, once again shining as a batsman and wicket-keeper, whilst employed with Bukhatir Group of Companies till 1986. With his stable temperament and focused approach, Ijaz was seen with credible pitch reading skills, more so in the transitional phase when local tournaments had their first taste of turf wickets. During 1981-96 he was part of the CBFS management team and on few occasions appointed liaison officer of the Pakistan teams that participated in fiercely fought ODI clashes with its arch rivals-India.

In the words of Zeeshan Ali, Ijaz Khapra’s son, ‘Bukhatir was trying to establish his team with professional cricketers in UAE after losing a local match in the mid 70’s. While he was hunting for good talent, Ijaz Khapra was amongst the first one to land in Dubai to play cricket for few months only. He performed exceptionally well to win the tournament for Sharjah Cricket Club (Bukhatir’s Team) and even got best player of the tournament award. Many a times he was recalled to UAE to play some crucial games on Fridays by Bukhatir and this continued for almost a year until he was offered a job in Bukhatir Group of Companies with family status provided.’

‘He started his professional career in UAE as storekeeper in an Aluminium Factory (ALUMTEC) of Bukhatir Group and continued to represent Sharjah CC in local tournament each Friday with great success till early 80’s. By this time Ijaz had helped in establishing Sharjah CC into a force to be reckoned with in local tournaments and his career progression in Bukhatir Group as Assistant Purchaser made him finally quit the game of cricket. However, he continued to be involved in CBFS tournaments till mid 1990’s, mostly in the capacity of Liaison Officer of Pakistan Team and/ or Ground Facility Co-ordinator for the visiting teams.’

In September 1983, the cricket Boards of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, set up the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) and officially extended wholehearted backing of Sharjah and ensured UAE cricket was welcome into the international fold. Although a year later than originally planned, Sharjah went on to create history by hosting the inaugural Asia Cup in April 1984 - a just recognition to the tireless efforts and passion in the last decade, of men behind the success story of cricket in UAE.

The author acknowledges the contribution of Majid Khan, Asif Masood, Mohammad Redha Abbas, Ali Jafri, Mahmood-ul-Hasan & Zeeshan Ali, in the compilation of the article.