Asia Cup 2018: India returns to UAE to continue to its love affair
With a strong migrant workforce from the Indian sub-continent in the UAE, it was a win-win situation for cricket promoter Abdul Rahman Bukhatir
There was a time when cricket, Sharjah and India were a heady mix for fans in the United Arab Emirates. From 1984, when it hosted the inaugural Asia Cup, to October 2001, when India last played at the venue in a four-nation tournament, Sharjah ruled the roost, with India-Pakistan clashes being the highlight almost every year. With a strong migrant workforce from the Indian sub-continent in the UAE, it was a win-win situation for cricket promoter Abdul Rahman Bukhatir.
But things went downhill for Sharjah and Bukhatir the moment the sordid match fixing nexus was out in the open at the turn of the millennium. Old photographs of Dawood Ibrahim watching matches from his cubicle in the stadium were to haunt the organisers. That led to the BCCI shunning cricket tournaments in the UAE completely.
In the last decade and a half, India have visited this country just once, for a bilateral two-match ODI series against Pakistan in 2006 at the then new Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi. The BCCI did have a brush with cricket here, but that was as part of the 2014 edition of the Indian Premier League. The early stages of the mega-event were played in the UAE due to the general elections back home.
As many as 20 IPL games were played at three venues at Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The Sharjah Stadium will, however, miss out this time, as the Asia Cup matches are scheduled at the state-of-the-art stadiums in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Cricket fans in the UAE are immensely happy that finally the Indian cricket team is in the UAE after a long time. Chandrakant Soni, who is a jewellery manufacturer in Sharjah's Rolla area, said: "I have seen most of the matches India have played in Sharjah. It's really exciting for fans that India are finally going to play in the UAE, reminding us of the good old days. "Though the Dubai stadium is a bit far from here, I would not miss the opportunity to enjoy the matches between the neighbours."
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