Abdul Rahman Bukhatir receives lifetime achievement award for services to cricket…..Bikram Vohra profiles the the Best Man of Cricket in Arabia
The magic of Sharjah and its love for cricket endures. There is something about this stadium that just brings the game to life. We saw this at the T10 experiment and we are seeing it again with the PSL games. Even Darren Sammy wounded and unable to walk knocks off two sixes and a four to take his side to a win. Imran Tahir takes a hat trick and as the matches progress the crowds pour in for round 2 starting March 13.
Against this backdrop the Guinness Book of Records certified leading venue in the world for one dayers celebrates its mentor, doyen and ageless owner’s Lifetim achievement award. Abdul Rahman Bukhatir is the first recipient of the Shyam Bhatia Award and richly deserves this and much more.
In his own words the man who brought cricket to the desert and created a sporting miracle besides inviting the world through his gates says it like it is:
My passion for cricket began at a very early age and I did not miss an opportunity to watch a game at any level in the subcontinent. Much as I say this myself I did develop a keen eye for talent and have made many a remark about young, unknown players as I watched them go through their paces, and my assessments have hit the mark. They rose to great heights. It was on such an occasion that this short, stocky but impressive character was wielding the bat on a hot, sunny afternoon in Mumbai playing the English Schoolboy’s XI. They called them colts in those days and the Indian colts, I learnt were headed by this youngster. I asked his name and was told it was Sunil Gavaskar, ‘Sunny’ to his friends.
It did not take long for me to figure out that this boy was going places. Of course, now it sounds like hindsight and a thousand people can say the same thing but I truly did remark that this young lad knew his willow and that willow would talk, and talk eloquently across the pitches of the world.
But that day was to mark the beginning of our relationship. If my memory serves me right I think I mentioned to him that he had style and class and would touch the. In his typical manner he gave that enigmatic smile of his and expressed his thanks. Sunny was always a quiet person not known to babble on and when he said something he said it with conviction.
Over they ears this would be one of his most endearing traits. You always knew where you stood with him because his candour was disarming and his honesty often helpful and supportive even when it was critical.
It was some years later when he had touched the stars that our relationship warmed and matured into a friendship of mutual respect. And it was his initiative as much as anyone’s that jumpstarted the CBFS experiment by his agreeing to lay a Gavaskar XI against a Miandad XI in a soft focus combat that would later translate into the famous India vs Pakistan battles on the Sharjah Cricket Stadium and catapult the facility to the top of the world, making it the premier ground for one day internationals. Sunny landed at the airport with his team mates after coming in over pure desert.
His first question was, “Where are we going to play, there is only sand everywhere?”
It was 1981.
Few minutes later he and his lovely wife entered the Sharjah Stadium and their fears were laid to rest.
It did not matter who won that game and the day marked the beginning of the experiment in which cricketers who rested on their laurels and had hung up their gear were given the most singular financial support ever in the world of cricket. The ‘benefit’ went to mainly Indian and Pakistani cricketers but later moved to players from other cricket playing nationalities. Sunny loved these tournaments and the atmosphere at Sharjah was something special.
For me, the Little Master’s presence was not only gratifying but his sage advice has always been welcomed and still is. Perhaps time has eclipsed some of his records and the new hi tech generation does not know first hand what an enormous talent I have the privilege to call my friend.
This great sportsman himself has done so much for local cricket and the hundreds of young men who have honed their talent thanks to the prestigious Bukhatir League have a debt of gratitude for the opportunity given to them.
“It was in 1974 that I came up with the idea of promoting the game in the Emirates and providing an opportunity for local players to compete and vie for the greater glory. The Bukhatir League attracted corporate teams and gradually established itself as the top contest of the annual fixtures. This is the 43rd year of the initiative that was the foundation of cricket in the country. I take quiet pride in this enormous success. That the Bukahtir XI for a long time held onto the championship was also gratifying and now other teams have caught up and there is stiff competition all the way to the top. Not many countries have a tournament that old and unbroken.”
The league is a testament to perseverance and the percolation of the game to every level. Abdul Rahman finds that the desire to win this tournament starts in early schooldays and stays with players even after they has ostensibly retired. To have played in the Bukhatir league is to have been there, done that, it is a special club.
“It is wonderful how this tournament has grown and the prestige attached to it is evidence of us having done something right. Playing in the League is an honour and it also brings together expats and locals to the playing field, the sporting spirit that marks the matches an adhesive for cricketers from different countries to compete in the best traditions of the game. I must say I am exceptionally proud of it.”