x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

ICC recognise Mazhar Khan's contribution to UAE cricket

Mazhar Khan, a Hyderabadi from India, has done a lot to enhance UAE cricket, but still believes more can be done.

When Mazhar Khan arrived in the Emirates in 1975, cricket was a casual pastime for a few expatriates.

But over the past 35 years, and with his help, the UAE has established itself as a cricket hotbed. International cricket became synonymous with Sharjah, and the game achieved an even higher profile as the grounds at Abu Dhabi's Zayed Cricket Stadium and Dubai Sports City became part of the landscape.

Mazhar, 59, was recently conferred a Lifetime Service Award for his "exceptional performance and services" by the International Cricket Council (ICC).

"It's a great feeling when you get recognition for your work," said Mazhar, who was born in Hyderabad, India. "I am, indeed, indebted to the Asian Cricket Council for the honour bestowed on me. The award is a tribute to all those involved in developing cricket in the UAE."

Mazhar has filled many roles for UAE cricket. He captained the Air India Sports Club in Dubai in the early 1990s, and played a strong administrative role in developing and promoting cricket.

His passion, energy and commitment to the game are legendary.

"Mazhar kept a low profile himself, but his work and contribution to the sport is there for everyone to see," Inam ul Haq, the general secretary of Abu Dhabi Cricket Council, said.

Mazhar also served as director of the ICC's executive board and as director of Asian Cricket's executive board.

"As a wicketkeeper batsman I did play a lot of competitive cricket in my youth, but never ever imagined making it to the top grade as a player, let alone as an administrator," Mazhar said.

"I was just out of college and with all my friends gone, was thinking what I will do next. I had some family members in Sharjah at that time and I also heard some cricket was played there."

Mazhar found employment in a subsidiary of the Bukhatir Group. That brought him close to Abdulrahman Bukhatir, the former Emirates Cricket Board (ECB)chairman who was instrumental in making Sharjah an international venue.

Mazhar played in the Bukhatir League, the premier inter-Emirate tournament, from its second year in 1975.

"We are about to celebrate the 37th staging of this tournament," said Mazhar, who has been at the helm of the ECB since June 1996.

"I was entrusted with some administrative matters in cricket and that's how I started.

"Sharjah has been the pioneer in starting organised cricket in the UAE.

"The game was played with a lot of passion and there were very good players, most of them flown in by companies especially to play cricket."

He added: "They were far better cricketers at that time than the present ones and there were lots of people to watch the weekend games, sometimes crowds of around 4,000.

"But there are more teams and more cricket is played all over the country now than before. More than 1,600 matches are played every season at all levels, and there are more grass grounds and turf wickets."

Mazhar said not enough has been done, however, to take the game to the Emirati schools. "Initiatives are been made after the recent success the all-Emirati team had in the Gulf Cup last week," he said. "We have started a camp exclusively for them at the Sharjah stadium and those already involved in the national team have taken the initiative to spread the game in the schools.

"We are working on some initiatives and hopefully will start implementing them in the coming weeks or months."

As might be expected for someone who has been involved in cricket for so long, Mazhar has friends throughout the community.

"I first knew him when I started playing in the Bukhatir League in 1988," said Qazi Ayub, the head coach of the MCC-Zayed Cricket Academy in Abu Dhabi. "To this date he remains the same cheery and non-controversial person I first knew some 23 years ago."

apassela@thenational.ae