Veteran UAE umpire Tariq Butt (centre) with Yuvraj Singh (left) and Virat Kohli, both then playing for Royal Challengers Bangalore, during the IPL 2014. The opening phase of the league was played in the UAE that year due to Parliamentary elections in India. Image Credit: Courtesy: RCB

Dubai: For Tariq Butt, UAE’s most experienced cricket umpire, curator and tournament organiser, the term ‘quarantine’ - now used profusely during the COVID-19 pandemic - was a part of life since 1979. He worked for the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) as a quarantine inspector for 43 years till he retired in 2013.

“People are familiar with the word quarantine only now, but for me, it was not new since my job title was ‘Quarantine Inspector’. My job entailed inspecting all ships that dock here for infection and give them clearance without being quarantined,“ Butt told Gulf News. It had been tough for Butt to stay at home as he had been always an outdoor person - having never missed a cricket ground on weekends and holidays for nearly 60 years now.

Butt had once almost died on the cricket field with a heart attack while umpiring and was rushed to the hospital. Immediately after recovery, he was back on the ground once again. “Frankly, I would have loved to die on the cricket field that day. For me that is the place that has given me the ultimate joy,” said 70-year-old Butt, who played three first-class matches for Lahore in 1975-76 and topscored with a 51 against Lyallpur - before flying into Dubai and taking up umpiring.

Butt is so habituated to leaving for the ground every weekend morning that his children have now hidden his car keys - so that he cannot step out. “It is a habit for me that I visit a ground as soon as I think about cricket. I officiated as an umpire for 36 years before retiring as an umpire in 2016, and have also been organising nearly 10 tournaments every year. Never have I missed staging the UAE National Day cricket, and India and Pakistan Independence day tournaments over three decades,” he added.

“I haven’t missed being at a cricket ground right from the age of 10. If I can resist going out leaving aside my habit of 60 years, I believe everyone can do it till the coronavirus pandemic threat comes down,” was Butt’s message to the people of UAE.

If I can resist going out leaving aside my habit of 60 years, I believe everyone can do it till the coronavirus pandemic threat comes down

- Tariq Butt

Butt’s efforts have been backed by cricket enthusiast and veteran cricketer Freddy Sidhwa, who supports all his tournaments. In the 13th edition of the Annual Shyam Bhatia awards for cricket excellence in 2016, he was presented the Life Time Achievement award.

The Sharjah’s Cricketers Benefit Fund Series tournament officials, in appreciation of Butt’s deep knowledge of the game, posted him as in-charge of the dressing rooms of cricket teams and umpires from the 1980s. “Those were the days when the dressing rooms and umpires’ rooms were together; so I supervised both and catered to the needs of all great cricketers and umpires. Greats like Sunil Gavaskar, Imran Khan, Sachin Tendulkar, Waqar Younis and almost all great umpires still remember me. I was even appointed as the fourth umpire for the CBFS tri-nation cricket series held in Morocco,” Butt recalls proudly.

Tendulkar remembers Butt for often supplying him with his favourite ‘parotha-omelet’ from a restaurant near Sharjah stadium.