x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Hot but still business as usual at Sharjah Cricket Stadium

The stands bustled with spectators and vendors for whom the weather was a non-factor during the first ODI between Pakistan and Australia, writes Ahmed Rizvi.

The stands were abuzz with a fun-filled activity even as the Pakistan batsmen struggled. Pawan Singh / The National
The stands were abuzz with a fun-filled activity even as the Pakistan batsmen struggled. Pawan Singh / The National

It is 3.30pm and most one-day internationals around the globe would be well underway by this time. At the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, though, there is still some time for the start – two and a half hours to be precise.

The August heat and humidity has forced "hosts" Pakistan and Australia to opt for a 6pm start for their three match ODI this series.

The fans, though, seem to care little about the weather and are already making their way to the stadium. Drenched in sweat, braving the afternoon sun, their numbers are growing by the minute.

The Sharjah Club Cafeteria, usually a quiet place, is bustling with activity this day. It seems to be the assembling point for the fans and just behind, a few of them are preparing for the first game.

Armed with thick-tipped markers, the more artistic among them are writing their messages and slogans on chart papers of different hues. A few of them are cutting out photographs of their favourite players and gluing them on. The heat did not dim their enthusiasm.

"Sir, we are the working class," says Mohammed Riaz. There is not a dry spot on his off-white, knee-length kurta. His hair is dripping wet. "The heat is not a problem for us. We are used to this.

"We are out in the sun every day. We even sleep in rooms where the air-conditioners are hardly working. So the weather is not going to keep us away from the game. This is a big match."

Tonight, he was even less concerned about weather. Instead, he was looking forward to getting into the stadium as early as he could and get the best seat. Well aware of Pakistan's recent failures against Australia, he was hoping for a win. Pakistan have not beaten Australia in an ODI series since 2002.

Riaz had paid Dh40 for the ticket. That was the cheapest available. The others were Dh60, Dh100 and Dh150.

Beyond the tickets, many fans were spending their hard-earned money on buying Pakistan flags. A small one was selling for Dh20 and the bigger ones for Dh50. Business was brisk and the hawkers had no time to discuss their sale.

"Why don't you come back later and we will talk then," one of them said. "Can't talk now, this is the time for business."

From his accent, he seemed a Bangladeshi. Many of his countrymen were joining the queues outside the stadium gates, tickets in hand. Of course, they were not wearing the green-coloured Pakistan jerseys and were going in as neutrals to watch the game.

"I am just here to watch the cricket," said Ashraf Ahmed, one of the "neutral" Bangladeshis, who had spent Dh60 each on the tickets. They were a group of five. "Both teams are good and so we are hoping to see some good action."

When the first Pakistan wicket fell (Mohammed Hafeez hitting James Pattinson to David Hussey in the fifth over with only 20 on the board), there was a muted cheer from the stands. It could have been the Bangladeshis or some of the Indians, who had also come to watch.

A second Pakistan wicket fell soon after. This time it was Azhar Ali chipping Pattinson to Mitchell Johnson and the "hosts" had scored only 28. Fans waiting in the long queues watched the dismissal on the stadium's giant screen, which is visible from the outside. They seemed disappointed.

"Do you think Pakistan can win from here," one of them asked. When he knew Pakistan had gone into the game with eight batsmen, he seemed a bit relieved.

The turnstiles grew longer behind him as more fans arrived. Most of them had arrived straight from their jobs and many still wore their uniforms. A few of them were running around, tickets in hand, from gate to gate, not knowing where they could enter from.

There were a few who did not bother with the queues. They had just parked their taxis on the side of the road, just under the giant screens and were taking in the action. "It is better from the outside," said Ghulam Rasool, an Afghan taxi driver. "I went for the match between Afghanistan and Australia on Saturday, and enjoyed it. So can't spend on another cricket match."

He had a word of advice for those going inside. "Take good care of our wallets. A few went missing on Saturday night."

Some fans stopped briefly to hear him out, but they were off to the stadium gates even before Rasool could finish. If the heat could not keep them away from the game, then the fear of losing their wallets certainly can't.

arizvi@thenational.ae

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