The storied Bukhatir League is one of the oldest and still the best domestic cricket league in the country, writes Paul Radley.
Cricket quality is getting better in the UAE's Bukhatir League
As the tension of a taut run chase got too much for the Abu Dhabi Gymkhana fielders under the lights at Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Friday night, a simple catch went begging at fine leg.
Saqlain Haider, the reprieved batsman who went on to win the match for Phoenix Medicine, may have felt compelled to turn to the culprit and say: "You've just dropped the Bukhatir League."
No, perhaps it does not have quite the resonance of the famous Steve Waugh put-down, after he had been dropped by Herschelle Gibbs in the 1999 World Cup.
But everything is relative, and in UAE terms at least, the Bukhatir League is about as big as it gets. And it predates the World Cup by two years, as well.
"Bukhatir League is so important to us because Abdulrahman Bukhatir is the father of cricket in UAE," said Adil Mirza, the captain of the triumphant Phoenix Medicine team. "He innovated cricket in this country. We are playing in his stadium here and we are very thankful he provided such a facility to us.
"Being an expatriate living in this country, and being able to play the sport at the level we are used to in our home country is fantastic."
The competition is the oldest in cricket in the country, and it is difficult to argue against it still being the best.
"It is always a proud moment for us to talk about the Bukhatir League as our flagship tournament," said Mazhar Khan, the Emirates Cricket Board administrator who has been involved in some capacity in 38 of the 39 editions of the tournament to date.
"There's no denying it's the top competition in the UAE, with top quality cricket played.
"The best way we have of gauging the standard of cricketers here is in this tournament."
Those players who tout their wares to the UAE national selection committee via this competition know they will have to prove their mettle, as it is not just the best players from these shores who play in it.
For example, for the duration of the 2013 Bukhatir League Phoenix Medicine, the victors, called on the services of Mohammed Khalil.
The fast bowler has a little bit of big match experience to call on: when he last played a Test match for Pakistan, it was the small matter of a match against India at Eden Gardens in Kolkata - probably the biggest fixture in the sport.
He is not the only one. The Alubond Tigers, who were knocked out in the semi-final, had two recent Pakistani internationals, Hassan Raza and Abdur Rauf, in the line-up.
"A lot of players who are no long vying directly for a place in the Pakistan national team come here to play in this competition," Mazhar said.
"That is why the quality of cricket is getting better. It is only an hour-and-a-half flight from Karachi, and a lot of these company employers have given these players visas for jobs. It means the standard is always very high."
Local cricket round-up, by Amith Passela
UBL Twenty 20 Cup Mohammed Raihan took five for 16 from four overs to lead William Hare Abu Dhabi Gymkhana to the last four in the UBL Twenty20 Cup at the Zayed Cricket Stadium. Ali Azmat hit 79 from 51 balls and shared a 104-run stand with Owais Aftab (25) as Gymkhana scored 137 for nine. Eurocon Alubond were bowled out for 104. Nissan Al Masaood join them in the semi-finals after a five-wicket triumph over New Medical Centre. Mohammed Usman hit 51 chasing NMC’s 155 for seven and his team won with four balls to spare.
Emirates Palace Cricket Cup The tournament had a thrilling finish as Al Fahim clinched a super over victory over Etihad Airways in the final on Friday, while HSBC won the Plate with two deliveries to spare against The Club. The Australian Roman Sougrobov hit the final ball for a six for Etihad to tie the game after bowling out Al Fahim for 175 but they could only muster five for two wickets in the super over which their opponents topped from just three balls. In the Plate final, The Club scored 198 for six but were overpowered by the HSBC’s heavy hitters in the last over.
Schools friendly The British School Al Khubairat beat the visiting English schools Silcoates and Reigate Grammar in two friendlies at the Emirates Palace hotel grounds. Dan D’Souza, the UAE Under 19 international, starred in both games, scoring 71 against Silcoates and 138 against Reigate.
Emirates Airline T20 Cup Rahul Dravid, the former India batsman who retired from international cricket last year after a career that saw him hit 36 Test hundreds, will return to action for the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) in the Emirates Airline Twenty20 Cup at The Sevens grounds in Dubai on March 22. He will be joined by Shaun Tait, Dale Benkenstein and Joe Denly in the MCC team for the fourth staging of the tournament against Sussex, Lancashire and Fly Emirates of Dubai.
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