Asia Cup: Memories of cricket in Sharjah – legends rewind

Former India and Pakistan cricketers recall stories of playing against each other in the UAE.

Ajay Jadeja and Sachin Tendulkar during a tournament in Sharjah in 1994.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

There is a popular belief that cricket would have never been this big in the UAE had India and Pakistan not played regularly in Sharjah.

Since the new stadium was built in 1980, the neighbours have faced off on innumerable occasions, making the UAE a popular cricketing destination.

Even though match-fixing controversy saw the iconic stadium missing out on regular India-Pakistan fixtures, every cricketer who has played in Sharjah has stories to share about the iconic venue and the madness for cricket in the Emirates.

As India takes on Pakistan in a Asia Cup fixture in Dubai on Wednesday, Sportstar speaks to some of the former cricketers from India and Pakistan to know their memories about cricket in the UAE.

TEAM INDIA

Ajay Jadeja: When we played in India, be it Jaipur on Bengaluru, most of the fans were Indians. Similarly, in Karachi or Lahore, the Pakistani fans had the domination. But in the UAE, the fans of both the countries would cheer for their respective teams. In Sharjah, there would always be a game going on off the field as well. That was a big difference in Sharjah. In UAE, the wickets are pretty much like what you have here in India or in Pakistan. I always felt that in the UAE, the Pakistani fans would create more noise. The Indian fans were more sophisticated.

Vinod Kambli: Playing in Sharjah was a different ball game. The ground in Sharjah was quite small and the moment the players would enter the ground, the crowd would welcome us with loud cheers. The gallery was quite close to the players arena and that’s why you could feel what was happening in the stands and that added to the pressure. The fans from India and Pakistan were deeply involved in the game. The entire atmosphere was electrifying. Before the game, the fans would walk up to the players and tell us that India must win the game. On days, Pakistan lost, Indian fans would take the upper hand and vice-versa. In the Wills Trophy final in 1991, Aaqib Javed took a hat-trick and I was to play the fourth delivery, but I got a bit late. So, the Pakistani players were waiting to welcome me with verbal volleys.

Atul Bedade: I made my ODI debut for India in Sharjah, and I felt that it was a homely atmosphere. There were banters between players and since the ICC’s code of conduct was not that strict, we took it in the right spirit. I think the franchise-based leagues have taken the sheen out of that old-world rivalry. I remember, I got out early in the first match and was dejected. So, some of the former cricketers met me in the hotel lobby and said, “Beta, itni jaldbazi mat karo. (Son, don’t be in a hurry) See the ball and then decide your shots.”

India and Pakistan fans at the Coca Cola Cup final in Sharjah in 1998.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

 

TEAM PAKISTAN

Zaheer Abbas: Sharjah was never just about cricket. It was more like a festival, where the fans from India and Pakistan would turn up and enjoy themselves. It was also a fashion parade and things were not just restricted to cricket. On the field, there was intense rivalry but the wickets were similar. But now, times have changed. I will be present in Dubai for the match on Wednesday and I genuinely hope to see a good game of cricket. Indian team is good even without captain Virat Kohli. Their batting line-up is stronger. But since Pakistan had defeated India in the Champions Trophy, they will be more confident.

Mohsin Khan: Home series has its own charm, but in UAE, there is a very balanced crowd. The Pakistanis and Indians would watch together, and it would be a packed house. They would enjoy a good match in a very good spirit. I remember how the stands in Sharjah was divided between Indian and Pakistani fans and they were very much involved in the game. It would be emotional at times. But then, we always took it as a game. Off the field, we were very good friends but there was no aggression lost on the field.

The victorious Pakistan cricket team poses with the Pepsi Austral-Asia Cup for a group photograph, after beating India by 39 runs in the final in Sharjah.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

 

Mudassar Nazar: Playing in the UAE always reminded me of a pressure cooker. Such was the pressure. When you play in India, the crowd would support the home team. Similarly, when you play in Pakistan, we will have our own crowd supporting us. That was much easier to deal with. But in Sharjah, Indians and Pakistanis would sit next to each other and they would be pretty vociferous. It is real pressure and as a player you would not like to lose. But then, it was a fantastic atmosphere. I have always believed that whoever handles this pressure well, is just going to play for the country for a very long time. In Sharjah, the crowd would sit very close to the players, so they had a habit of communicating with the players and telling them that the team has to win.