Sharjah, Aug 21: While many memorable matches have been played between India and Pakistan in Sharjah, heres the story of the first unofficial match played between the arch-rivals at this historical ground in 1981.
At that time, there was no grass pitch available in Sharjah. The match was played on a cement pitch, in which one team was led by Sunil Gavaskar while the other team was led by Javed Miandad.
Sharjah-based Abdul Rahman Bukhatir went to the famous NJV school in Karachi in the 1960s and 70s and became fascinated by the game of cricket. When he returned to the UAE to establish a vast trading empire, he simply brought cricket with him.
Bukhatir founded the Sharjah Cricket Association in 1974 and for the first time in February 1976, he invited a strong Pakistani team to play two 50-over games against a local XI; iIt was the first tour of Sharjah by any foreign team.
Coming back to the Gavaskar XI and Miandad XI match, Bukhatir planned a charitable match for Pakistan batsman Hanif Mohammad. It was a challenge to get players from India and Pakistan to play together for the charity match.
In October 1980, Bukhatir bought a large plot of land, measuring about 200,000 square metres, after levelling the field. He laid an Astroturf mat on a cement wicket. Scaffolding structures were placed on either side of the wicket for spectators with two scaffoldings. Dressing rooms were temporary structures, and players had to go to the Sharjah Football Club's dining hall for lunch.
Bukhatir's colleague and former Pakistan cricketer Asif Iqbal was talking to India and Pakistan's new and old players. The $200,000 prize money match was played on April 3, 1981 between Sunil Gavaskar XI and Javed Miandad XI, which can be said to be the first match played at the Sharjah ground.
It was the first match to be played under the banner of the Cricketers' Benefit Fund Series (CBFS) and a 15-member committee was constituted to run it.
Everything was in place till 3 April 1981. Tickets were sold at Indian and Pakistani restaurants, with the cheapest being 25 dirham. Advertisements and posters for the game were all over the place and local newspapers gave coverage to the build-up.
The organisers were initially concerned about whether people would come for the game. According to reports, more than 8,000 visitors from all the Gulf countries had reached Sharjah, while the same numbers could not enter the ground.
Asif Iqbal, while talking to the media after the match, said that before the start "we were really unsure whether people would come, but by the end, we were worried that the scaffolding made for the spectators would be able to hold all the people".
"It was India-Pakistan and it completely changed the concept of the match."
The match was unusually sluggish. Gavaskar XI scored only 139 runs and Miandad's team chased it down comfortably. The late Taslim Arif was the man of the match and Gavaskar won the television set award as the highest run-scorer.
The game was so successful that it was swiftly planned to be staged one match every year. The following year, two more games were held between the Indian and Pakistani sides.
Months later, the boards of the subcontinents established the Asian Cricket Council, and Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka were playing the first Asia Cup in 1984 on the same ground.
The first match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka on 6 April, 1984 became the first officially recognised ODI match at the Sharjah Cricket Association Stadium.