Sharjah Cricket Stadium still has the odd advantage over Lord's. One has staged more one-day international matches than any other ground in the world. And it's not the one in London, which is universally acknowledged as the home of cricket. Sharjah has less precious neighbours, too. Which is always a bonus during Ramadan.
When the Westminster Council granted permission for permanent floodlights to be installed at cricket's head-quarters in January, some of the residents in London, NW8 fumed. The 48-metre retractable pylons helped the ground secure hosting rights for major one-day and Twenty20 day-night matches over the next five years, but they came with a caveat. Planning consent included conditions that the lights will only be used for up to 12 matches and four practice matches during a cricket season, from April to September. In addition, the lights have to be dimmed to half-strength at 9.50pm and be fully switched off by 11pm.
The folk who live in Samnan and Sharjah Industrial Area Five have never been quite so demonstrative. As the clock ticked passed 11pm on Sunday evening, the bulbs at Sharjah Stadium were just warming to maximum output. On the field, Eurocon Alubond and the UAE Nationals were reaching the climax of their pool match in the Ten Sports Ramadan Cup. They were the first match on. The umpires left them in place for the next match, which was starting straight after. Not that you would find anyone in agreement in any of the Ramadan Cup teams, the results of the matches are really just a trivial aside.
If ever an example were needed of the power sport, in this case cricket, has for bringing people together, this competition provides it. The average player competing in the late match might get home after the game at 3am and have to be back up ready for duty by 7am. At the day's end they take iftar, then immediately head to the stadium for their cricket fix. There is one major bonus. At no other time of the year are the rush-hour roads as clear between Dubai and Sharjah as they are during Ramadan, when the majority are breaking their fast.
Mazhar Khan remains in awe of the indefatigability of the nation's cricketers, even though he has overseen all the 22 editions of the Ramadan Cup in his administrative role with the Sharjah Cricket Council. "Some of these teams enter five different tournaments during Ramadan, all over the country," he says. "Out of 25 days, they will be playing cricket nearly every night. That is some commitment."
As with almost all sport in the region, the global financial slowdown has made a dent. There are 24 teams participating in this tournament, down from the usual 32, but the standard certainly has not been impaired. Pakistan's Nasir Jamshed, a 19-year-old opening batsman, has opted to travel to Sharjah to play for Eurocon, rather than in his native Lahore. If the class he showed in his sparkling cameo of 34 on Sunday night is anything to go by, he will be adding to his tally of 12 one-day international caps sooner rather than later.
He is not the first left-handed Pakistani opener to grace this tournament. In the past the likes of Aamir Sohail as well as Taufeeq Umar have played, while Salman Butt, the rock at the top of the Pakistan line-up at present, went to school in the city. Indeed, Jamshed had his thunder stolen by his opening partner, another left-handed Lahori, Ahmed Dar, whose pyrotechnic batting briefly brought him a first-class career, and a brutal 78 here.
Eurocon's power was unsurprisingly a little too much for their Emirati opponents. The UAE Nationals - not to be confused with the UAE national team - are a team comprising of emerging Emirati players, bolstered by the assistance of a few Sri Lankan and Pakistani expats. Their vice-captain, Salman Farooq, an off-spinner who has represented the national team, says: "I was lucky enough to bowl against Nasir Jamshed and Ahmed Dar. I had an opportunity against them and it was good to see where I stand."
Farooq was back at his desk at Barclays Bank by 8.30 yesterday morning. He adds: "It gets a little difficult by the end of office hours, but this is our passion." @Email:email@example.com