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A four-nations tournament of one-day matches, played in Sharjah at the end of March, was won by India. They took the Rothmans Trophy. Australia were runners-up and Pakistan beat England in the play-off for third place.
Although cricket in Sharjah began in 1981 and has been enthusiastically supported by many of the 700,000 Indians and Pakistanis who live in the United Arab Emirates, this was the first time that the Test match Boards of Control had chosen the sides and attended the competition. The representatives were delighted with what they saw - a well-organised contest, a new stadium for 12,000 spectators set like a mirage in the desert just outside the town, a field of real soil which had been hauled hundreds of miles by lorry before being heaped into a gaping hole in the sands, and a pitch on which the ball turned a lot, but which was level and fair.
The introduction of cricket to this particular part of the Emirates was the inspiration of the Arab businessman, Mr Abdulrahman Bukhatir. He grew to love cricket when he was a student in Pakistan and raised £2 million to build the stadium. His cricket manager is Asif Iqbal, the former Pakistan and Kent all-rounder. They organise matches without profit in mind, except to make contributions to the benefits of players past or present. This time the beneficiaries were Wasim Bari, Syed Kirmani, Eknath Solkar and Gul Mohammad.
India first beat Pakistan in an astonishing match. Imran Khan took six wickets for 14 runs when India were put in, yet still ended up on the losing side. There was a capacity crowd, live television coverage in Dubai, and recorded highlights made for India and Pakistan. It was a day of noisy partisanship. The batsmen were undone by an over-damp pitch in the morning which then turned sharply as soon as spin was applied. Quite easily the most talented innings was the 47 by Mohammad Azharuddin. Next, Australia beat England by two wickets off the last ball of the match. The only country not to take a full first team to the competition, England were led by Norman Gifford.
Few batsmen played the spin bowling well, or settled to the extremely slow surface. The only exceptions, in any of the matches, were Sunil Gavaskar, Javed Miandad, Allan Border, the new Australian captain, and, by way of a pleasant surprise for England followers, Robert Bailey, the young Northamptonshire batsman. Bailey showed an ability to adapt to the conditions by letting the ball come on to the bat.
By the time of the final, India were firm favourites and played like it. They bowled out Australia for 139 in 42.3 overs and then hit off the runs in 39.2 overs, Gavaskar played a skilful innings and was judged Man of the Series, partly for his useful batting and, more conspicuously, for five brilliant catches, three of them diving efforts at slip.
Another feature of Sharjah cricket is their practice of employing neutral umpires. This defused those situations near the bat where an appeal can lead to petulance and gamesmanship, not to say straightforward cheating. The umpires were H. D. Bird (England), M. W. Johnson (Australia), Swaroop Kishen (India) and Khizar Hayat (Pakistan).
Members of the four Boards of Control were satisfied that Sharjah is a worthy venue for international cricket. They saw the merit of international players parading in front of an eager public which is normally starved of top-class cricket. Sensibly, they have resolved not to treat it as a pirate organisation, but rather to embrace it. There might, otherwise, be a danger of a breakaway. The high prizemoney is alluring and at the moment out of proportion to the other rewards put up in world cricket, but if those in Sharjah follow the advice of the Boards of Control, there is no reason why cricket should not thrive in the unlikely setting of the Great Arabian Desert.
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