Exclusive: UAE is the centre of cricket now, says Mohammad Azharuddin

Mohammad Azharuddin (centre) with BCCI president Sourav Ganguly and legendary spinner Anil Kumble during the T20 World Cup final in Dubai. (Twitter)
Mohammad Azharuddin (centre) with BCCI president Sourav Ganguly and legendary spinner Anil Kumble during the T20 World Cup final in Dubai. (Twitter)

Azharuddin praises the Emirates Cricket Board for wonderfully hosting the T20 World Cup and the Indian Premier League (IPL)



by

Rituraj Borkakoty

Published: Tue 30 Nov 2021, 8:42 PM

Mohammad Azharuddin’s first match in Sharjah still holds a special place in the batting wizard’s heart.

For, batting was not a piece of cake on that wicket when India played an Imran Khan-inspired Pakistan on March 22 in 1985.

Despite Azhar’s defiance (47 off 93 balls), Imran’s ferocious spell (6/14) left India (125 all out) with their tails between their legs.

But what followed next was the stuff of legends as the Indian bowlers hit back to bowl Pakistan out for 87, scripting the first chapter in the classic cricket rivalry between the two bitter South Asian rivals in Sharjah.

Now more than 36 years later, the former Indian captain admires the phenomenal growth of cricket in UAE and salutes the Emirates Cricket Board for wonderfully hosting the T20 World Cup and the Indian Premier League (IPL).

You recently attended the BITS Pilani Sports Festival in Dubai. Playing any sports for youngsters is important in terms of having a healthy lifestyle. And when it comes to fitness, you raised the bar very high long before Virat Kohli became famous for being a fitness freak...

It’s simple. To maintain a healthy lifestyle, you have to stay fit. Fitness is the most important thing. If you are fit, you stay younger and healthier. I don’t like people who say they don’t have the time for exercise because if you don’t make time for exercise, you eventually make time for illness.

You are now the brand ambassador for Bangla Tigers in Abu Dhabi T10. Is T10 cricket’s best chance to get into Olympics?

I really believe cricket will become an Olympic sport with the T10 format. I don’t think the T20 will have that impact. Maybe if the T10 does well (at the Olympics), they might think of looking at T20 also. But I think if cricket becomes an Olympic sport, it will be only because of T10. It’s a very short format. It’s a two-hour game, almost like basketball or football, so it’s good for the Olympics.

Hosting two back-to-back mega events is not easy. The UAE just did that by staging the IPl and the T20 World Cup recently despite the challenge of maintaining the standards in pitch conditions...

First of all, I would like to congratulate the Emirates Cricket Board for taking up this responsibility. I think for them, it was a challenge to hold one tournament (IPL) and then the World Cup. It’s not an easy job to host so many matches on the wickets. They have done a really great job. I think the UAE is the centre of cricket now because nobody expected Abu Dhabi and Dubai to also host games. In the old days, it was only Sharjah that had a stadium. But I think they have got very good stadiums now. Dubai has an outstanding stadium, even the Abu Dhabi stadium is very good. Hopefully, they will build more stadiums in the other Emirates as well.

The Reliance Group has bought a team in the UAE T20 League, the first season of which will be held next year. It’s a massive development for cricket in UAE...

Now you have the Caribbean Premier League (CPL), the Big Bash, so it’s apt that a T20 league in UAE should happen and it will happen. I am sure the Reliance is not the only big group, I think there will be many others that will look to buy teams. The Emirates Cricket Board has worked really hard. Right from the beginning, they always wanted to promote cricket. I think their time has come now and they are reaping the fruits.

What memories does Sharjah bring to you every time you set foot in the UAE?

I have a lot of memories of playing in Sharjah. Beating Pakistan is the best memory. In the first match that I played in Sharjah, we got all out for 126 (125) and we got the Pakistan team out for 77 (87). For me, that was the first impact of what Sharjah was. At that time, the wicket had a lot of movement, pace and bounce. But then over the years, the wicket became very flat. But yes, beating Pakistan in that game was one of the best memories I have had. And then in 1998, it was special when we won the Coca Cola Trophy (Sachin Tendulkar’s Desert Storm against Australia). These memories are hard to erase.


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