My first day in UAE: There was no cricket in 1977
Tariq Butt, the UAE's oldest cricket umpire who recently hung up his white coat, looks back at days when there was no cricket and a ground to play in the UAE.
Popularity of cricket is growing in the world but there is no country like the UAE which has few nationals in its national team. However, UAE has emerged as a top cricketing destination and Sharjah Cricket Stadium holds the record of hosting highest number of one-day internationals (224) in the world.
It all happened in front of the eyes of Tariq Butt who entered the UAE on September 23, 1977, soon after General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq toppled Zualifqar Ali Bhutto's government in Pakistan through a coup.
Butt was deputy general secretary of Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in Lahore at that time and he had to flee for his life. He came to Karachi and then departed for the UAE on a visit visa and never thought of going back.
Butt's first day in Dubai was nothing special as he landed here and stayed with a relative. He was looking for a job as he has got cricket genes in him, Butt inquired about the game.
There was no cricket in Dubai in 1977 but some of the boys from Lahore were playing the game in Sharjah.
According to Butt, his group was the first to start playing cricket in Deira, a place behind Dubai Municipality building, which is now Union Metro Station.
Butt used to live in Jafiliya and to play a cricket match he had to travel to Deira as Bur Dubai had no ground to play.
"We used to cross Creek by abra by paying only 10 fils. After crossing the Creek two of us will take a breakfast at Karachi Darbar at the cost of only one dirham. But now the times are changed and you have shell out money for food," Butt said.
Tariq Butt with with Abdul Rahman Bukhatir, a Zimbabwean judge and Abdul Razzaq Kazim. - Supplied photo
How Butt became an umpire
Butt, who has played first class cricket in Pakistan, spent 30 years with Sharjah Cricket Stadium.
His friends advised him to become an umpire, after he got a serious ankle injury during a match in Dubai.
Three generations has played under him and he recently hung up his white coat. But he is still an insider and cricketers from around the world know him well.
"The credit goes to Abdul Rehman Bukhatir for introducing cricket in the desert. His dedication has not only earned him a name but put Sharjah on the world map.
"Bukhatir Sahib is not very active in cricket matters these days and has left the matters to Waleed Bukhatir who has grown up in front of my eyes. He is a worthy successor and all my prayers are with him to carry the torch."
"It is a great honour for a ground to host most number of one-day internationals by leaving behind grounds like Lord's and Melbourne."
Tariq Butt with Pakistani cricket players Ijaz Ahmed, Mushtaq Ahmed and Wasim Akram. - Supplied photo
According to Butt, the future of cricket doesn't look very bright in the UAE.
"Years of hard work and dedication is needed to learn the tricks of the game. But people's level of interest in the game here is really discouraging."
"As per the existing laws, an expatriate male has to work or study to stay in the country after reaching 18 years old.
But how can a person, who has to work from 9 to 5, can carry on as a player."
"The cricket coaches in the UAE have always complained about the non-availability of the players for practice sessions."
Butt's first job in Dubai was with a transport company and he retired from Dubai Health Department recently.
Now at 65, Butt is a satisfied person, blessed with three sons and a daughter - all of them are married and well settled in Dubai.
Though he has some health problems, his humour and positivity are contagious.
He claims he still loves Lahore more than anything else and craves to go back to his roots and spend the remaining days of his life there.
Accepting his sons' advice and wish, who are working here, he decided to stay back in Dubai, a home away from home.
As told to Liaqat Ali
|Why UAE lack good cricketers
The UAE has played World Cup twice but the game has failed to develop. But why?
In the UAE, expatriates represent the team and to develop those players, the authorities have to catch them young.
Tariq Butt said: "It is a difficult task to develop a player and then keep him in the UAE. The boys, who start learning from the age of 10, are forced to leave the country by the age of 18 or take a job.
"Cricket is a full time job and needs a hell of effort to compete at the top level. Only professional players can do the justice with the game."
"Some of the players are not released by the companies to go for practice. UAE's coach Aaqib Javed has done a commendable job but he can't do more. He has brought lot of changes but still a lot more yet to be done," Tariq Butt said.
However, some businessmen in the UAE are doing a great service to cricket by providing jobs to cricketers.
"Anis Sajan of Danube is on top of the list as he is spending lot of money and time on cricket. Freddy Sidhwa of Seven Seas, Shiva Pagarani, Neeraj Ramamoorthy and Shaji Ul Mulk of Mulk Holding are other cricket enthusiasts who have kept the game alive in the UAE.
"But Dubai Cricket Council and other bodies concerned have to do more if they want to popularise and lift the standards of the game.
Butt, an outspoken person, did not mince his words when he talked about "least paid umpires in world."
"It is pity that even now the umpires are poorly paid. Also, the UAE umpires was not given an opportunity to travel with the team during the qualifiers abroad," Butt added.
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