Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 4 July 2020

On this day, April 22, 2009: Shahid Afridi picks up six as Dubai Stadium hosts its first international match

World-class venue shot into prominence after the men in green shifted base to the UAE

When Dubai International Stadium opened for big business on this day 11 years ago, it had been just 50 days since Sri Lanka’s bus had been attacked by gunmen on its way to a Test match in Lahore.

It was clear that cricket was unlikely to go back to Pakistan any time soon.

It turned out to be a six-year gap between that series against Sri Lanka in 2009, and a low-key return involving Zimbabwe. The drift of teams back there in the time since has been more tentative than a regular flow.

Dubai’s new 25,000-seater stadium might have thrived in the meantime, anyway. The fact Pakistan’s cricketers – and Shahid Afridi in particular – became such regular visitors all but guaranteed it.

Since Umar Gul sent down a nondescript first delivery to Shaun Marsh on that first afternoon, Dubai has staged 109 matches across Tests, one-day internationals and T20 internationals. Its tally of 62 T20Is is a world-record for a single venue.

In 2018, it played host to cricket’s biggest match – India v Pakistan – twice in a matter of days, during the Asia Cup.

The Indian Premier League and Pakistan Super League have played to sold out crowds there. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has addressed a huge congregation there.

There was even a major domestic football cup final played at the ground once. Although the German manager of the winning team did wonder how cricketers coped with the hard bit of ground in the middle of the field.

All of which represents an impressive body of work for a ground whose construction was initially held up by delays because of the scope of its ambition.

Between the stadium and the ICC Academy, on the other side of Dubai Sports City, 380 tons of clay had to be flown in from Australia, 380 tons from Pakistan, and 180 tons from England.

The late delivery of the soil meant the first event planned for there – a World Cup qualifying tournament – had to be shifted to South Africa instead.

But it is a marker as to the importance of cricket in the UAE that the cricket facilities were the first in the massive Sports City project to be finished and delivered.

Plenty of memories have been made. Mohammed Amir’s hat-trick on the opening weekend of PSL. Yasir Shah’s last-over dismissal of Adil Rashid to win a Test match. Jos Buttler’s record-breaking century. Afghanistan’s cricketers emerging from the ravages of was to qualify for a world event for the first time.

Despite all that, the first match was pretty forgettable. Played out in front of a two-thirds full stadium, Pakistan beat Australia by four wickets.

Afridi proved that new stadiums do well if the same old heroes do well. Few have been more popular in the history of cricket in the UAE than the firebrand allrounder.

He got the city’s account in major international cricket off to a start with six wickets for 38, which was at the time his best ODI figures.

Updated: April 22, 2020 08:14 AM

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