The Heavy Ball

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Remembering Sultan Zarawani

In this time of economic turmoil in the UAE, let us turn our minds back to the deeds of a stalwart from the 1990s

Sidin Vadukut

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Dubai Duty Free is perhaps the greatest concentration of frenzied retailing insanity anywhere on the surface of the planet. It is a heady cocktail of over-oxygenated buyers, tax-free shopping, too-short stopovers, expats seeking familial redemption with Toblerone, and children on escalating sugar highs.

It was also a great place to spot cricketers flying through Dubai. They were either flying through on tour or returning after a quick predetermined tri-series in Sharjah. Two years ago I ran into Farveez Maharoof as he frantically ran around speaking into a mobile phone while holding up several large Toblerones.

"Look, Farveez Maharoof!" I told a cricket-oblivious co-passenger.

"That *&$#@ dictator destroyed Pakistan!" my friend said with sublime insight.

Now that Dubai dream lies in ruins.

Okay, perhaps I exaggerate. Maybe not in ruins as much as in abandoned construction sites. The sheikhs, though, are still nonchalant. The ruler, I assume, still wakes up in the morning, walks to his balcony and tells a quivering chamber-bedouin: "You know what? I love the smell of The Palms early in the morning..."

Amid all this financial turmoil, the international cricketing fraternity has tragically forgotten its greatest ambassador for the sport in the region. A towering, courageous master of the willow. But lost in the unforgiving sands of time. Like Atul Bedade.

Does nobody at all care about how Sultan Zarawani is coping with the Dubai debt crisis? Shame on all of you! May your portfolios crash and burn.

Due to three sublime moments in his seven-ODI-long international career, Zarawani, one-time captain of the Emirates cricket team, and extreme-sports enthusiast, will never fade from my cricketing memory.

The first was during the Pepsi Australasia Cup in April 1994. The tournament, which took place in Sharjah, began with a nail-biting India-UAE tie. It was the first time most people had ever seen the UAE play in their jaunty grey-as-dishwater kit.

For the Emirates it was a heady period in world sport. Just in 1990 the national football team had qualified for the football World Cup. The team scored two goals in its three group matches, including one against Germany, and conceded only 11. But for the locals and expats it was a moment of pride and joy. The guy who scored against Germany got a Merc and property.

Wait. I think all of them got Mercs and property.

Later in 1996, Zarawani's UAE would qualify for the cricket World Cup as well. The entire United Arab Emirates, and its people, erupted joyously as one and ignored this development.

But in April 1994, Sultan Zarawani, captain courageous and the only local-born, or Emirati, in a team of expats and hired guns, stunned everyone with one moment of brilliance in a three-over spell.

Listen carefully. This might be the only time ever that "moment of brilliance" and Zarawani appears in the same paragraph. Or website.

Sachin Tendulkar had gone about doing his thing with a quick knock of 63 off 77. And then Zarawani stepped up and hurled what Arun Lal would call a "tremendous ball" (because, you know, Lal can't make out what that really is).

My memory is hazy, and there are no Youtube videos of this or any other Zarawani moment. But the ball, I recall somewhat, pitched in line and then turned. Turned like a fiend. Turned like a car in Delhi driving up the wrong side of the road, whose driver suddenly spots a policeman crouching behind a tree.

Turned like that song by The Byrds told it to.

Tendulkar leaned forward to defend, the ball clipped his edge and he was caught behind in the slips by Dubai Temporary Residence Visa No. 127658A.

 
 
Amidst all this financial turmoil, the international cricketing fraternity has tragically forgotten its greatest ambassador for the sport in the region. A towering, courageous master of the willow. But lost in the unforgiving sands of time. Like Atul Bedade
 

Zarawani had struck!

Unfortunately the UAE went on to lose that match by 71 runs.

A few years later I saw Zarawani again, this time during the opening ceremony of the 1996 Wills World Cup. The ceremony itself was memorable for… what was it… give me a second… okay, it'll come to me eventually. There were lasers, I think. Lots of lasers. And either Sushmita Sen or Aishwarya Rai.

At one point in the ceremony, the captains of each participating nation were handed their national flags. Poor Zarawani had this priceless expression on his face throughout: "What the !@#$ is this shit? Who are these people? Why is this happening to me? I have several UAE flags already."

I swear, I thought Zarawani was going to cry.

He was, but not immediately.

That would happen a few days later when the UAE faced South Africa in their tournament opener. South Africa racked up 321 runs and suddenly the Emirates found themselves six wickets down for 68 runs.

In came Zarawani, looking every inch the unfazed captain. Without a helmet. To face Allan Donald. Who was bowling very fast. Zarawani. No helmet. Allan Donald. Meditate upon this.

Some would say Zarawani was trying to instil confidence in his side. Such people are idiots. Most people would say he was trying to instil compound fracture in his skull. Donald hit Zarawani's brain housing with his first ball. Zarawani tottered around, stunned, before being dismissed after another six balls. He had scored nothing.

It is just unforgivable that when Dubai is facing such a dire crisis, no one is worried about Zarawani. Cricket cannot afford to forget its heroes.

Zarawani is on Facebook. It is time to reach out.

Sidin Vadukut is the managing editor of Livemint.com. He blogs at Domain Maximus. His first novel, Dork: The Incredible Adventures of Robin 'Einstein' Varghese is published in January 2010

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Sidin Vadukut
Sidin Vadukut has been writing extensively about cricket since he started writing this column for ESPNcricinfo. He comes from a family of footballers, who all nurture virulent hate for cricket in general and Basit Ali in particular. Vadukut is the author of the Dork trilogy of office-culture humour novels. By day he is a columnist and editor with business daily Mint. At night, depending on when he gets off work, he goes home or fights crime. His favourite cricketer is Saeed Anwar. By which he means Sachin Tendulkar. Jai Hind.

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Sidin VadukutClose
Sidin Vadukut has been writing extensively about cricket since he started writing this column for ESPNcricinfo. He comes from a family of footballers, who all nurture virulent hate for cricket in general and Basit Ali in particular. Vadukut is the author of the Dork trilogy of office-culture humour novels. By day he is a columnist and editor with business daily Mint. At night, depending on when he gets off work, he goes home or fights crime. His favourite cricketer is Saeed Anwar. By which he means Sachin Tendulkar. Jai Hind.
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