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Meet the Kerry Packer of the Persian Gulf – News

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

Published: Wednesday, January 3, 2024, 10:57

When Abdul Rahman Bukhatir took the sport’s who’s who to the United Arab Emirates for an exhibition match in 1981, no one could have imagined it was the beginning of cricket’s glorious dance in the sandy desert.

Sharjah becomes coveted neutral location

The success of that hastily arranged 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 suitable stadium, paving the way for the annual official tournaments in Sharjah.

Sharjah Cricket Stadium became 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 among its viewers legendary Bollywood stars who witnessed cricket classics with the best teams in the world.

Cricket comes to the United Arab Emirates

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

Now, the T20 World Cup being played in the United Arab Emirates is a testament to Bukhatir’s extraordinary vision.

Waleed Bukhatir, vice-president of Sharjah Cricket Stadium and son of the country’s cricket pioneer, said his father always dreamed of the United Arab Emirates hosting a World Cup.

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

“You know, one-day internationals (ODIs) were just becoming popular (in the early 1980s) and it managed to organize the largest number of games in the world. He performed more than 240 ODIs. The dream has come true for my father. The T20 World Cup is held in the United Arab Emirates. “He is very excited because his dream has come true,” he added.

How Sharjah widened the rivalry between India and Pakistan

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

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

Javed Miandad’s last six balls helped Pakistan beat India in the 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 Miandad’s last six-ball match on April 18, 1986?) that elevated the India-Pakistan rivalry to epic proportions.

“It is very important 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 so many matches anywhere else in the world,” Waleed said.

No wonder these 43 matches made the cricket rivalry between India and Pakistan even more exciting. These matches definitely bring back a lot of memories in people’s minds: Waleed Bukhatir, vice-president of Sharjah Cricket Stadium and son of UAE cricket pioneer Abdul Rahman Bukhatir.

The rumor around Sharjah

Waleed believes that the hype created by Sharjah around every match between India and Pakistan set the tone for the unbridled excitement that fans experience every time these two teams meet in an ICC event.

“Sharjah definitely played a huge role in making the India-Pakistan matches so important in world cricket. Now, people fly from many places around the world to see that game. Today any match between both teams is two years or three years from now, and tickets are sold out the moment the dates are announced. “I definitely believe that by organizing 43 games between India and Pakistan, my father sent a powerful message to the world.”

Waleed Bukhatir, Vice President of Sharjah Cricket Stadium

Waleed Bukhatir, Vice President of Sharjah Cricket Stadium

Bukhatir, who rarely makes public appearances these days due to his advanced age, still follows the game with the same passion and intensity.

“My father loves cricket. He remains passionate about the game. He likes to watch every game. In fact, sometimes 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 a grassroots level in the UAE.

Kerry Packer of the Persian Gulf

Not surprisingly, Bukhatir’s astonishing success earned him comparisons with Kerry Packer, the late Australian media mogul who revolutionized cricket in the late 1970s by introducing night matches and colorful clothing to the game.

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

“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 games for their countries,” Waleed said.

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

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

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