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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 April 2019

Pakistan v Australia: Dubai International Stadium to celebrate 10 successful years in fitting fashion

The fourth and fifth ODIs of the series will be held at a stadium that has become a key venue for international cricket

Pakistan and Australia pictured during their T20 clash at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium in October last year. AFP
Pakistan and Australia pictured during their T20 clash at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium in October last year. AFP

It is not quite 10 years since the Dubai International Stadium opened its doors to cricket fans. But it is close enough, and so the ground’s authorities will be celebrating a decade of existence when Pakistan host Australia for the fourth and fifth one-day internationals this Friday and Sunday.

And why not? These are, after all, the two teams that played when the 25,000-capacity arena that has been the most obvious success story of the Dubai Sports City project was officially inaugurated on April 22, 2009.

Some of the items on the original Sports City blueprint – most notably, the stalled multi-purpose stadium that so conspicuously marks the entrance on its Motor City side – are a cautionary reminder of a different time in ambition’s life-cycle.

The cricket ground, by marked contrast, has assembled an impressive body of work since 2009. Chiefly, its major achievements have come in the one discipline it was created for. The facility was, after all, initially called the Dubai International Cricket Stadium for a reason.

“Cricket” was quietly dropped from the name some years later, though, and its other attractions have been many and varied. There have been pop concerts. Football has been played there. Manny Pacquiao once had discussions about fighting Amir Khan there. And, in August 2015, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi drew perhaps its biggest crowd to date when he gave an address at the stadium.

Modi apart, nothing has been able to draw an audience with quite such regularity as cricket, though.

It is a cruel and unhappy coincidence that the Dubai stadium opened its doors so soon after the attacks on the Sri Lanka cricket team bus happened in Lahore – which meant Pakistan cricket has been in exile for most of the time since.

But, even before that, the UAE had long been a hub for Pakistan cricket, Sharjah its first real home away from home. After the bus attacks happened, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai became its de facto home.

The Dubai new-build has been at the centre of cricket’s modernisation over the past decade. No ground, anywhere in the world, comes close to matching the 47 Twenty20 internationals it has staged.

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Five classics from Dubai International Stadium

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The Indian Premier League and Pakistan Super Leagues have drawn sell-out crowds there. And it has been the site of some of the landmark moments on Afghanistan’s rise to the top of international cricket.

It seems strange to recall, given the present-day celebrity of the likes of Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammed Nabi that Afghanistan cricket was just some refugees with an aptitude for the sport back in 2009.

“It is a fantastic achievement of hosting 19 international teams with over 100 international matches in just a span of 10 years,” said Salman Hanif, Dubai Sports City’s senior manager of venues and events.

“It is a happy coincidence that we are hosting the same teams who played the inaugural match in April 2009.

“We'll be marking this anniversary on Friday with the toss for the Pakistan v Australia match with a special gold coin to commemorate a decade of Dubai International Stadium."

The man flipping that coin, Shoaib Malik, is one of two players in this series that remain from 2009. The other, Shaun Marsh, the Australia batsman, faced the first ball bowled in international cricket in Dubai, when Umar Gul sent down the first delivery of a match that Pakistan eventually won by four wickets.

“Playing in Dubai is like playing at home,” Malik said. “There are many memories, because mostly whenever we have played at the Dubai International Stadium we have won all those series. All those memories will be with me forever.”

Updated: March 28, 2019 03:23 PM

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