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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Weekly Sports Newsletter: Sunday the new Friday, Dubai the new Sharjah

The unreasonable emotional investment in face-offs between the arch rivals would trigger curfew on streets, see a spike in televisions sales and also result in sound thrashing for a generation of kids.

Written by Sandeep Dwivedi |
Updated: October 26, 2021 1:02:32 pm
virat kohliThe Men in Blue are facing Scotland in a crucial Super 12 clash on Kohli's birthday on Friday. (AP)

Dear Readers,

What do you write about on a Saturday morning when India is set to face Pakistan in Dubai on Sunday evening? Of course, about Sunday evening.

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But first about those many tense Fridays of the 1980s in this neck of the woods. During the Sharjah days, the high-stakes India-Pakistan games would be on the weekend eve in India. The surprisingly high frequency of those close games with twists and turns made limited-overs cricket the opium of the masses in the sub-continent. The unreasonable emotional investment in face-offs between the arch-rivals would trigger curfew on streets, see a spike in televisions sales and also result in sound thrashings for a generation of kids.

Here’s Shamik Chakrabary’s first impression about the event and Mihir Vasavda’s look at the future of T20 cricket.

It was the India-Pakistan games that also made the two neighbouring cricket boards realise the marketability of the sport. But Sharjah had its ills too. It was a venue where the word ‘shady’ wasn’t just used to describe the comfortable stands under those desert canopies. Wanted criminals sat in VVIP boxes and had easy access to players.

But Sharjah also gave a hint about where the game was headed. What Lalit Modi did in 2008 with the Indian Premier League, Abdul Rehman Bukhatir had done in the 1980s. Actually, cricket and entertainment were not introduced to each other by the IPL, they go back a long way. Modi only formalised the cosy relationship.

Film stars back in the day were groupies on the sidelines of those Sharjah games, but with the advent of franchise cricket they were the stakeholders. Aaqib Javed once told this newspaper that there used to be fights in the Pakistan dressing room to field at a certain position in the outfield from where one could see the movie super stars seated in those cosy private boxes. “Wasim (Akram) always won,” he said.

It took a couple of decades for the distance to shrink, film stars were now in dugouts and even the huddle. Post retirement as the bowling coach of Shah Rukh Khan-co-owned Kolkata Knight Riders, Akram would have realised how the cricket ecosystem had changed.

The shifting of the cricket capital from Sharjah to the more expensive, glamorous and cosmopolitan Dubai also points to the growing profile of the sport. The sound of bat hitting the ball inside Dubai’s billion-dollar Sports City complex announced the grand entry of cricket into the big league. Along with ATP events and European Tour golf tournaments, Dubai was also hosting IPL and now the T20 World Cup. Earlier this year, there was a London Times report about the UAE considering a Monday-to-Friday working week so that the region achieves congruence with the global economy. What was once Friday can soon be Sunday.

Mind you, this T20 World Cup isn’t just about the India-Pakistan game. There are many interesting stories waiting to unfold. As a lead-up to the event, we put out some remarkable tales about the men who could make a difference.

Over the weekend do find time to read about Kieron Pollard, Glenn Maxwell, Haider Ali, Mahesh Theekshana and Tabraiz Shamsi. The cast of characters here has the kind of variety that could be found in Arabian Nights tales. There are kings, mavericks, horsemen, sorcerers and magicians – that in a way are also the cricketers we have profiled.

Happy reading.

Sandeep Dwivedi

National Sports Editor

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