Meet the Kerry Packer of the Arabian Gulf

Waleed Bukhatir opens up about his visionary father Abdul Rahman Bukhatir, who revolutionised cricket in West Asia

by

Rituraj Borkakoty

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Abdul Rahman Bukhatir with former Pakistan player Moin Khan during an ODI match between Pakistan and New Zealand in Sharjah. KT file photo
Abdul Rahman Bukhatir with former Pakistan player Moin Khan during an ODI match between Pakistan and New Zealand in Sharjah. KT file photo

Published: Wed 3 Jan 2024, 10:57 AM

When Abdul Rahman Bukhatir brought the who’s who of the sport to the UAE for an exhibition game in 1981, no one could have imagined that it was the start of cricket’s glorious dance in the sandy desert.

Sharjah becomes a sought-after neutral venue

The success of that hastily-organised exhibition match between Sunil Gavaskar XI and Javed Miandad XI on a nondescript ground in Sharjah inspired Bukhatir to dream big.

Soon, the Emirati businessman built a proper stadium, paving the way for annual official tournaments in Sharjah.

The Sharjah Cricket Stadium went on to become the most sought-after neutral venue.

Bollywood legend Raj Kapoor (right), his wife Krishnna  (left) and legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium. KT file photo
Bollywood legend Raj Kapoor (right), his wife Krishnna (left) and legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium. KT file photo

And it even counted legendary Bollywood stars among its spectators that witnessed cricketing classics featuring the world’s best teams.

Cricket comes to the UAE

The game never looked back as Sharjah’s meteoric rise eventually sowed cricket seeds in this country. Two wonderful stadiums were built in Dubai, which has come to be known as the ring of fire, and in the capital Abu Dhabi.

Now the T20 World Cup being played in the UAE is a testament to Bukhatir’s extraordinary vision.

Waleed Bukhatir, Vice Chairman of Sharjah Cricket Stadium and son of the country’s cricketing pioneer, said his father always dreamt of UAE staging a World Cup.

“This is a big event happening in the UAE, and we can see his vision has come true,” Waleed told Khaleej Times.

“You know the one-day internationals (ODIs) were just becoming popular (in the early 1980s) and he managed to stage the highest number of games in the world. He staged more than 240 ODIs. The dream has come true for my father. The T20 World Cup is being staged in the UAE. He’s very excited because his dream has come true,” he added.

How Sharjah made the India-Pakistan rivalry bigger

Having an India-Pakistan World Cup match in the UAE is the icing on the cake.

Javed Miandad's last-ball six helped Pakistan beat India in the final of the 1986 1986 Austral-Asia Cup final in Sharjah. KT file photo
Javed Miandad's last-ball six helped Pakistan beat India in the final of the 1986 1986 Austral-Asia Cup final in Sharjah. KT file photo

After all, it was the intense duels between the two fierce rivals in Sharjah (who can forget the Miandad last-ball six game on April 18, 1986?) that elevated the India-Pakistan rivalry to epic proportions.

“It’s a big thing to have an India-Pakistan World Cup match in the UAE. You know, India and Pakistan played 43 ODI matches in Sharjah and they have never played these many matches anywhere else in the world,” Waleed said.

No wonder, these 43 matches made the India-Pakistan cricket rivalry even more exciting. These matches definitely put so many memories in people’s minds — Waleed Bukhatir, Vice Chairman of Sharjah Cricket Stadium and son of the UAE’s cricketing pioneer, Abdul Rahman Bukhatir

The buzz around Sharjah

Waleed believes the buzz created by Sharjah around every India-Pakistan game set the tone for the unbridled excitement fans experience whenever these two teams meet in an ICC event.

“Sharjah definitely played a very important role in making the India-Pakistan matches so important in world cricket. Now, people are flying from so many places in the world to see that match. Today any match between the two teams in two years or three years, and tickets are sold out the time the dates are announced. So, definitely I think by staging 43 India-Pakistan games, my father sent a powerful message to the world.”

Waleed Bukhatir, Vice Chairman of Sharjah Cricket Stadium
Waleed Bukhatir, Vice Chairman of Sharjah Cricket Stadium

Bukhatir, who rarely makes public appearances these days because of his advanced age, still follows the game with similar passion and intensity.

“My father loves cricket. He continues to be passionate about the game. He enjoys watching every match. In fact, at times, he comes to the stadium. He also knows most of the players,” Waleed said.

Bukhatir’s passion for the game had also rubbed off on Waleed who played the sport in his formative years. He has joined hands with his brother, Khalaf Bukhatir, Managing Director of Bukhatir Group and chief executive officer (CEO) of Sharjah Cricket Stadium, to promote the game at the grassroots level in the UAE.

Kerry Packer of the Arabian Gulf

It’s not surprising that Bukhatir’s astonishing success earned him comparisons to Kerry Packer, the late Australian media tycoon who revolutionised cricket in the late 1970s by bringing night matches and coloured clothing to the game.

But Waleed says his father’s contribution to the sport was more profound.

“You know he even created the CBFS (Cricketers Benefit Fund Series) for the (financial) benefit of the players who worked so hard and played so many matches for their countries,” Waleed said.

“As more matches happened, he knew the passion for cricket was growing by leaps and bounds. And teams like Sri Lanka were becoming better every time they played in Sharjah. The Lankan players were looking forward to playing in Sharjah.

“So, when this started growing, the celebrities started coming in, especially for the India-Pakistan matches. My father brought glamour, the celebrity atmosphere and packed stadiums to cricket in the UAE.”


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