Sharjah: As a child Waleed Bukhatir could barely relate to the gentleman's game when his father Abdul Rahman Bukhatir built the Sharjah Cricket Stadium in the Eighties and brought international cricket to the UAE.
In a country dominated by football, cricket in those days still had to go to some lengths to find a corner of a field it could call its own.
Yet, Waleed loved the game, though not so much for the action on the ground as for the unbridled frenzy and the carnival-like ambience created off it.
"The cacophonous din of the screaming fans, the long queues for tickets, the celebrities, it was incredible," he recalls.
As vice-chairman of the 27,000-capacity Sharjah Cricket Stadium, Waleed is now hoping to recreate the same electric atmosphere when Pakistan take on Sri Lanka for a Test match and a one-dayer here next month.
Putting the spotlight back on a stadium that has been off the international radar, lying neglected and forlorn for years, can, however, be daunting.
Waleed knows this too well, but his resolve his firm. "It's an onerous challenge no doubt, but we are up to it and will do whatever it takes to revive the glory of this place. The stadium is getting a complete makeover. In keeping with International Cricket Council (ICC) requirements, we're upgrading the floodlights, installing new and improved seats, new canopies, new replay screen and a new scoreboard. We have also enhanced the gymnasium and swimming pool facilities so the players don't necessarily have to rush to their hotel for workouts. They can do it all here. It's a complete package for them. Once ready, the stadium will be at a par with some of the best cricketing venues in the world. If it was good last time it will be even better now," said Waleed, overseeing the massive renovation works.
A Hallway of Fame, featuring pictures and videos from the best cricketing moments here, is also planned.
"The Sharjah Cricket Stadium has hosted a staggering 200 ODIs since 1984. No venue in the world has hosted more ODIs. So one can well imagine the rich repertoire of history associated with this ground. We want to put it all together for visitors," said Waleed, now a keen cricket enthusiast himself.
"When I am able to squeeze out some time from my schedule, I play cricket. Initially, I used to open the innings but now I bat slightly lower down the order. I also bowl slow off breaks," said Waleed, listing Sachin Tendulkar, Wasim Akram, Brian Lara, Imran Khan and Steve Waugh among his favourite players.
Waleed said the return of cricket to the emirate could put Sharjah back on the map of world cricket.
Sharjah has not hosted a Test match in nine years. Could the upcoming series herald a cricket renaissance in Sharjah? Bukhatir is nowhere near that degree of optimism. But now that Sharjah Cricket Stadium has got a new lease of life, he's not entirely without hope either.