Sharjah: For a desert venue which first brought together a mix of cricket and Bollywood in the 1980s and 90s, Thursday was a red-letter day of sorts for Sharjah.
The Indian Premier League, with its heady mix of cricket, Bollywood quotient and slick presentation, may have taken the world by storm – but the old-timers at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium can rightfully say: “We did it first.”
From the likes of Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Simi Garewal or Anju Mahendra, the venue used to be a hub for film stars, VIPs and the like during the tournaments held once or even twice a year.
What’s more, it also brought the page-three people to a cricket ground for the first time – giving an opportunity for the booming voice of commentator Henry Blofeld to make the ‘earrings’ worn by ladies so famous then. Tony Greig, the former England captain and a regular commentator here who never ceased to be amazed at the presence of this huge patch of green inside the desert, was also very much a part of the Sharjah folklore.
When asked about those days, Mazhar Khan, general manager of the Sharjah Cricket Council (SCC), reflected: “Yes, we were the first ones to bring Bollywood and glamour in cricket and we have seen those days. I am glad it’s back again.”
While there was no noticeable Bollywood face to the opening match here between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Delhi Daredevils, the atmosphere did not lack in the glitterati as Dr Vijay Mallya, the chairman of the United Breweries Group and owner of Royal Challengers Bangalore, turned up with his whole entourage.
With matches of both Kolkata Knight Riders and King’s XI Punjab scheduled here over next week, the starved local fans may see the presence of their co-owners Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta soon.
Reliving the glory days, Shyam Bhatia, a Dubai-based industrialist and renowned cricket lover, said: “Despite the touch of glamour and exclusivity, we enjoyed the matches in a family-like atmosphere. The guests in the VIP boxes would mingle with each other and often have lunch in another’s box. I don’t think that kind of an atmosphere can ever be recreated.”