SHARJAH // Was the Sharjah Cricket Stadium not always supposed to be Pakistan's home from home? Or should that read the Afghanistan national team?
Not yesterday. For one day only, the UAE's oldest cricket venue belonged to international cricket's newest arrivistes: Nepal.
By mid-afternoon the crowd was pushing 3,000 for the ACC Trophy final. Barely any of them even feigned support for the host nation. Company bus drivers who might have otherwise anticipated an afternoon off were instead employed delivering Nepalese expatriates to the stadium gates.
Works minivans continued to pull up to the ground well into the afternoon, pouring out nouveau cricket supporters.
Cricket has been incubating in the Himalayan nation for some time now.
Nepalese national teams have long been a force in age-group cricket in Asia, while the senior team have been threatening a breakthrough performance like this for a while.
The etiquette of watching the game beyond the sidelines has caught on, too, judging by the crowd here. There were the usual staples of the subcontinental cricket supporter. Some waved sheets of paper with handwritten 4s and 6s on them.
Boundaries prompted jigs of delight in the aisles. There was the customary bloke running along the front of the stand with a flag whenever anything good happened.
And there were some unique touches, too. For most of the Nepal batting effort, a tune played out with the beat provided by a lone air horn, met with a massed response of supporters drumming water bottles against the plastic seats.
And it was upliftingly good-natured - at least, until Saqib Ali held a vital catch in front of them, then turned and held his finger to his lips to tell them to shush.
As if that was going to happen. "I enjoyed it - they were fair to both teams," Saqib said afterwards.
Despite the relatively low profile of this competition, the ground's authorities had employed security professionals for this match - perhaps in anticipation Afghanistan and their hordes of followers would be here.
During the hours of play, though, the guards were entirely redundant. Halfway through Nepal's innings, the G4S security men were wandering among the masses shaking hands with supporters, thanking them for keeping them entertained.
"Wherever we play fans come and support us," said Pubudu Dassanayake, Nepal's coach.
"In Kathmandu, 15,000 come to watch and any website that carries cricket news will always have lots of hits from Nepal."
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