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April 19, 2014

The home invasion

Hassan Cheema
Wasim Akram got a fair chunk of his 502 ODI wickets in Sharjah  © Getty Images
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A man dressed in Arab garb is sitting alone. Within seconds he's surrounded by Pakistanis of various professions, each begging him for a ticket to paradise, the visa for Dubai. It's a sketch from Fifty Fifty, probably the most influential Pakistani TV show ever. Like so much else in the show, that 100-second skit hits the nail on the head, encapsulating the viewpoint that everyone in the country had towards the Gulf in general, and Dubai in particular. The sketch is from the early '80s but it could have been shot at any time in the last quarter of the 20th century and it would have been part of the zeitgeist.

The Emirates, in the eyes of the Pakistani lower and middle classes, was the land of opportunity, the gateway to a better life - the Pakistani dream was to not be in Pakistan. But by the end of the century, Pakistanis were fond of the Emirates for a whole other reason. It had become the home of Pakistani cricket.

Now that may seem a bit strong to the defenders of the Gaddafi or NSK, but here are the facts: from playing their first ODI in Sharjah in April 1984, till April 2003 (when the ground went off the international circuit), the Pakistan national team played more at that small stadium in the desert (108 ODIs) than they did in Pakistan (92 ODIs). They even had a better win-loss ratio in Sharjah (2.24) than they did in Pakistan (1.69). Pakistan won 74 off their 108 matches in Sharjah, yet even the lone tie there is remembered fondly by a generation that would never see Abdul Razzaq the same way again.

Sharjah became the place where Pakistan called out other teams. It became the place where new heroes were born and legends shone. Almost a quarter of Wasim Akram's ODI wickets were taken in Sharjah, and seven of Saeed Anwar's 20 hundreds were scored there. The two greatest Pakistani teams are defined more by what they did in the Emirates than what they did at home. It was not coincidence that when Osman Samiuddin wrote of the haal of Pakistan, the match that became his inspiration was a Pakistani comeback in Sharjah. In that article Younis Khan describes the haal as a "tradition of Sharjah". Sharjah really did see the best of Pakistan.

When the stadiums in Dubai and Abu Dhabi were inaugurated in the mid-noughties it seemed like a poor attempt to try and recreate lightning in a bottle - there was too much that Pakistan did with Sharjah; no ground was going to truly replicate that or replace it. But as the Emirates had seen the best, they were to drag Pakistan out of the worst too. Pakistan returned to the UAE immediately after the fateful tour of England in 2010, and four years later they are still unbeaten there. It has been the backdrop to Pakistan's resurgence, and stagnation, and after a record of eight wins, three draws and eight losses in the 19 home series before the move to the UAE, Pakistan have now gone five series without losing.

The Emirates have essentially become Pakistan's home away from home. One could go as far as to say that Pakistan enjoy themselves more there than they would at home.

And now the IPL is being played there.

The IPL is, in some ways, the living embodiment of Pakistan's place in international cricket. It represents the monopolisation of the game by India, an idea that is not particularly well appreciated across the Radcliffe Line. It is also - in the absence of Pakistani players in the league - a sign of the pariah nature that Pakistan has in international cricket now. As players from across the world get together to improve their short-form games and interact with the best in the world, Pakistani players look on from the outside, envious, if not of the experiences then certainly of the money involved. And of course, it allows Pakistani uncles to air their victim complexes - to rant about how the whole world is crooked yet it's only our lot that is punished for it; it's us against the world, as shown so clearly by this domestic T20 league.

The IPL in the UAE, the IPL in Sharjah - it's just not supposed to be, the Pakistani fan wonders. It's like wooing and then loving someone for two decades and then finding out that the beloved has given herself over to a sugar daddy who'll use her for three weeks and throw her away. But at the end of those three weeks, Pakistan will be there, forever willing to love some more. Or that's what we'd like to tell ourselves.

Stadiums are just structures, arenas to hold mindless children's games in. And yet they develop souls; we give them characteristics, attach memories to them, make them our own. Saeed Anwar caressing a ball through the off side towards those canopied stands, as Henry Blofeld pontificated over nothing.

Sharjah, to the Pakistani mind, is an amalgam of memories that have no link except their common backdrop. And an international event that specifically bars Pakistanis from it being played in the land that Pakistanis consider their own, it just feels wrong. Nostalgia isn't supposed to be made of this.

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Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, writer and commentator, and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. He tweets here

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Posted by Venkat_Gowrishankar on (April 22, 2014, 2:11 GMT)

Very very Biased article. T am sorry , the IPL never stopped participation of Pakistan players . They did play in the first 2 -3 seasons, then what happened, we all know. For every action , there is a reaction. I am sorry, so much has been pointed against the BCCI,there is not a word about PCB, which is one of the most poorly run organizations. Mr Cheema , I woulld recommend to write an article on what the PCB has done for playing cricket in your own country ?. Write an article on how PCBi is near bankruptcy.

Posted by natarsx on (April 21, 2014, 13:29 GMT)

@AP_88 - The main concern of the author is that UAE stadiums host Indian event where International players participate bar Pakistanis. It would be nice to see Pakistanis playing IPL but thats not the main concern of this article. Had Pakistani players play IPL - the author would have written IPL being played in Pakistan's adopted home. This is over reaction. The stadiums are full even on week days. UAE people enjoy a small IPL window - please be happy that the crowd are really enjoying this rather than over reacting that UAE stadiums are being used by Indians!! Grow up guys!!

Posted by aniltjoseph on (April 21, 2014, 7:25 GMT)

While the author's nostalgia is completely understandable, the fact is that the UAE too has moved on since the 1990's. Sharjah is now a secondary venue to the wonderful Dubai and Abu Dhabi stadia. And while earlier, Pakistanis would flock to see their team play, all we see now is empty seats for Pakistan matches (even ODI's on weekends against South Africa attracted 50% capacity crowds). Indians in the UAE are now a far more affluent and influential community than before and that is reflected in crowd support too. The IPL in UAE has been fantastic so far- great crowds, great atmosphere and lots of families attending

Posted by Nadeem1976 on (April 21, 2014, 3:11 GMT)

After seeing the reception IPL teams get in UAE i do not think that UAE is Pakistani home at all. Because there are millions of sub continent people lives in UAE therefore it's hard to define who owns the cricketing rights in UAE, Pak or Ind?

I think India should start playing with Pakistan in UAE and also allow Pakistani players to play in IPL, it will be great for both countries and for the future of cricket.

Posted by gandabhai on (April 20, 2014, 21:23 GMT)

As an Indian, i would love to see the wonderfully talented Pakistani players playing in the IPL. But i also understand the reason why they are not allowed to participate in that particular competition.

Posted by ImonG on (April 20, 2014, 12:48 GMT)

Look Mr Cheema, I can understand your emotions, but then again the fact remains, although ones rented house can be wonderful abode for a long time, and one can have some great memories in there, but it just doesn't becomes his own. It remains a rented property & the owner ( i.e. UAE cricket) reserves every logical, legal & emotional right to let it out to some one else. And who ever he has rented out to( i.e. IPL), reserves the right not to invite the previous occupants in his house warming party. So when the previous occupants ( i.e. Pakistan ) cringe about it, it doesn't look good, in fact it becomes a classic example of one who is really desperate to get to that party, & crying when denied an invitation. I think its time that the Pakistanis come out of the nostalgia of considering UAE "as their own country". IT ISN'T. Only one's own country is his/hers homeland. All other places, no matter how many people you have their & how similar your cultures are, you always remain an expat

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hassan Cheema
Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, writer and commentator. He writes on cricket and football for various publications and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. He doesn't believe opinions other than his own are valid. @mediagag

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