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The neutral venue that stood like a beacon of hope for other offshore cricket venues
October 17, 2010
The Cricketers Benefit Fund Series held 198 one-day matches (more than any other centre), made around 150 players richer by amounts varying from US$15,000 to US$50,000, and provided some of the money power that gave breath to the Asian thrust in world cricket.
When Abdul Rahman Bukhatir splashed money on players, commentators, spectators (he had movie stars flown down from India) and administrators two and a half decades ago, even he could not have envisaged just how far his dream would take him. Sharjah, one of the seven emirates of the UAE, has seen some of the finest one-day matches, and held Test matches too. It took two decades, in which the administrative skills of Qasim Noorani meshed with the cricketing contacts of Asif Iqbal, to realise Bukhatir's dream.
Since Sharjah showed the way, other centres like Singapore, Toronto and Morocco hosted internationals, but none have had the intensity of the cricketing oasis in the middle of the desert, where nothing matched the frisson of an India-Pakistan match.
Acceptance was a long time coming, especially since the local team, UAE, were good enough to play only two matches after they won the ICC Trophy in 1994.
Rumour clouds about match-fixing began to gather over Sharjah in the late 1990s. Although nothing was proved, international teams began to distance themselves from the venue - though it hosted neutral Tests in the early 2000s. The biggest blow came when in 2001, the Indian government banned the national team from playing there. Sharjah never really recovered from that setback.
This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine in 2003
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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