The Indian Premier League has boasted of initiating cricket’s courtship with entertainment. As Season 7 of the T20 league opens in the UAE, Bharat Sundaresan points out how the desert venue has seen it all in the 80s, the era when thrilling India-Pakistan games attracted Bollywood stars at stadiums and post-game parties.
He claims to have not followed its intricate goings-on over the years. Still, Mudassar Nazar is a self-confessed IPL admirer. On Wednesday, the star-studded cricket circus will gallop into the desert, kicking up a shimmering storm along the way. In tow will be the customary fanfare and the celebrity parade. Nazar, though, will not be among the luminaries welcoming the grand spectacle in Dubai.
The former Pakistan all-rounder instead will be at home in Manchester spending time with family. Not that he fosters any regrets of missing out on the IPL’s debut in the UAE.
“It’s not going to be anything that I haven’t seen before. The actresses, the celebrity fare, the parties. The IPL is a smart venture. But cricket and entertainment were originally wedded in Sharjah three decades ago,” he says. You can almost imagine him sporting a smirk as he launches into a ‘been-there-seen-that’ tone. Mudassar should know. He was there after all when Abdul Rahman Bukhatir orchestrated cricket’s first revolution in the Middle-East. When an ambitious businessman took the sport to a virgin land and in turn transformed it into a cricketing oasis.
Well before the IPL came Sharjah. The glitz, the glamour, the nail-biting finishes. They were all there.
The stands were packed, adorned with passion and emotion while the stars shone bright from their privileged vantage points.
Kerry Packer may have championed a bold new era a decade earlier with his World Series Cricket and coloured-clothing-white ball gimmickry. But the subcontinent fan still remained in the dark. Packer for him belonged to another age, another hemisphere. It took Sharjah to ensure that he came up to speed even if the ball remained red and the attire white.
Bukhatir also managed another unprecedented alliance. One that would cater to Indians and Pakistanis in their respective lands with the same fervor as it would to the expats living in the UAE.
He gave them film stars and cricket stars on the same page. He gave them ‘cricketainment’. Twenty or so years later, the IPL would take it to another incomparable level.
THE SIX THAT MATTERED
And by the way, before the six-hitters, came ‘the six’. The Miandad moment. A passage of play that in many ways defined what Sharjah cricket was all about. Tension and drama both on the field and in the stands followed by a truly theatricial finish. Javed Miandad smashing Chetan Sharma’s low full-toss over the midwicket fence in fading light. An image that will continued…