“What a six, what a six, it’s way down the ground, it’s bouncing around on the roof.”
For Indian cricket fans of a certain vintage, the voice of Tony Greig on commentary added to the theatrics as Sachin Tendulkar transformed into a divinity at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium — one of the venues for Asia Cup 2022 — raking in the eyeballs, that was to reaffirm his status as a batting phenom while signalling India’s emergence as a cricketing powerhouse.
My memory lingers on a six Tendulkar hit on the night of the Coca-Cola Cup final in Sharjah on April 22, 1998. Michael Kasprowicz was the bowler. It was right in the slot and Tendulkar launched it over the bowler’s head with a beautiful extension of the arms. The ball landed atop a green shamiana [tent] enclosure in one of the stands... “This little man is the nearest thing to Bradman there has ever been...Whaadaplaaya he is..” Greig exclaimed.
More than 24 years ago, it was here in an ODI between India and Australia that Tendulkar had struck a hundred that has since been immortalised in the words “The Desert Storm”.
“I don’t remember anything about that match except that I went there with my dad and “Sach” went mad that day. Look at the scorecard! That was decades before IPL (Indian Premier League) and T20 cricket. The man was always ahead of his time,” Arif, a 50-year-old local businessman, whose family moved to Sharjah from Kerala in 1996, said.
“Of course, the stadium looked a bit different then, didn’t it?”, Arif says smiling as he tries to recollect the stand where he was seated.
“They’ve all these new seats now, but underneath all the facelift, it’s still the hot, humid Sharjah stadium that loves cricket” he says, enthusiastically pointing towards the part of the stadium where he saw “Bollywood actors in their fashionable clothes”.
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You don’t just remember the game when you look at a ground, you remember the good times you had, the people you celebrated with, the sheer zeitgeist of those days. One of the founding members of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 1971, Sharjah shares a border with Dubai but has enjoyed nowhere near the same attention as its world-famous glitzy neighbour.
“It (Sharjah) is almost unheard of in foreign households, I feel. But in 1980s-90s, we were the place to be, and it was all because of one thing - cricket,” said a local cab driver, Mahmood, as he drove me to the stadium.
He is not exaggerating. Between 1984 and 2003, Sharjah hosted 198 One-Day Internationals - more than Lord’s and the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) combined. When it hosts tonight’s Asia Cup match between Pakistan and Hong Kong, Sharjah will become the venue to host joint-highest number of international matches - 280 - with the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG).
In many people’s minds, Sharjah still epitomises the early glory days of white-ball cricket, or as Arif says, “a crystal ball that told you cricket was about tight finishes, big hits and glamour long before the IPL”.
Arif’s only wish: “Want to see India take on Pakistan one last time in Sharjah, it won’t happen, will it?”