Cricket in the Desert

It probably all began on a pleasant winter afternoon in the war years when a British Army contingent stationed in the Trucial States decided to have a bit of a game between the various squadrons.

By Bikram Vohra

Published: Sat 13 Nov 2010, 12:12 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 2:46 AM

History will record that the parade ground version was the introduction of the game to the desert.

Over the twentieth century increasing trade links with the sub-continent further helped in the growth of the game as Arab visitors received exposure during their sojourns there to further their studies or business interests. The fervour of the subcontinent must have been intriguing even if the intricacies of the game were initially puzzling. As the greening of the desert took place the parade ground rendered space to proper playing fields.

With the formation of the federation, which resulted in the creation of independent United Arab Emirates in 1971, the game received the boost as business organisations began to sponsor the players and teams in right earnest. It was a good canvas and in view of the growing popularity of the game around the world, provided a certain impetus. There was also a surge of interest in the younger generation.

Although it was first primarily limited to expatriates with little involvement of the local population, the curiosity existed. All that was needed was to harness it.

The story of cricket may not have been the dramatic success it has become if things had coasted along without the thrust given by the oil boom. As thousands of expatriates from the cricket mad sub-continent descended in droves to the oil drenched land of fortune, they brought the game with them.

Cricket in those days was still played on rolled dirt tracks and the facilities were rudimentary, so to speak. The frenzied economic activity resulted in getting the support of Banks, Corporate houses and business organisations. There were enough people in the ranks who thought a good weekend game was just the thing.

At this stage Television was also waking up to live broadcasts and the one day game was gaining ascendency over its nobler older brother the 5-day Test.

The arrivals of pioneers of the likes of Abdulrahman Bukhatir, Reda Abbas, Abdul Rahman Falaknaz, Galadari Brothers etc. to name a few, proved to be the turning point. They had learned and played their game in the sub-continent and got hooked on to it ever since.

The advent of the now well established Cricketers Benefit Fund Series on the scene worked wonders as it proved to be a shot in the arm as the game got its first international exposure.

The first international match between an Indian and Pakistan representative team, between Gavaskar XI and Miandad XI was held in 1981 and after that CBFS never looked back. The first ODI was held way back in 1984 and today Sharjah Cricket Stadium holds the unique record of staging the maximum number of ODI’s with facilities second to none.

Another important milestone was reached when the UAE team won the ICC trophy in 1994 and thus played the 1996 World Cup, a crowning glory indeed.

In view of the new qualification rules, an all out effort is being made to attract the locals to the game and so far the signs are very encouraging.

Umpires Seminars and Coaching Clinics are also held regularly to improve the all-round standard of the game.

Today the game is fully entrenched with the number of teams and players increasing all the time. The facilities also have improved consequently. There are three turf wickets with grassy outfield including the Sharjah Cricket Stadium with its world class facilities.

The other two wickets are in Dubai and Abu Dhabi which now boast two of the finest facilities in the world.

The UAE today is a strong contender to host the highest levels of international tournaments and be the frontline of venues. Indeed, it’s ready to go.

I say, did that really happen?

A hapless player called Goulding had two ribs and bone in his foot broken by the same bowling machine? A 120 kmh delivery hit the practicing batsman full on the foot causing him to collapse to the ground. As he was writhing in agony, the relentless machine continued to hurl 4.5 ounces of leather at similar velocities, breaking the luckless Goulding’s ribs!

The furthest a cricket ball was over thrown was a phenomenal 140 yards, 2 feet by Robert Percival at the Durham Sands Race Course in 1882? The weight of the ball was not specified.

“The Master” Jack Hobbs, scored 98 of his 197 first class centuries after he had reached the age of 40?

1938, Bradman was reduced to bowling as England piled up world record score 903? Only when it became clear that Bradman would be unable to bat did the England skipper, Wally Hammond, declare the innings closed.

The original over-arm style of bowling was invented by women players, whose large extravagant skirts prevented them from bowling effectively unnder-arm?

Early versions of the game allowed a batsman to charge down an opposing fielder waiting to catch him out? This practice was very wisely banned in the 18th century, but nevertheless, one cannot help wondering about the outcome of such a collision between, sy Viv Richards and Javed Miandad!

It is over 200 years since cricket first became firmly established in the sub-continent, with the formation of the Calcutta club in 1792?

Four of the five youngest players to pay Test Cricket at one stage will fix the visual accordingly came from Pakistan?

When the incomparable Hanif Mohammed made 499 for Karachi in 1959 - still the highest individual score ever in the first class game - he was run out going for his 500 from the last ball of the day?

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