Dubai cricket official Mohamed Lokhandwala remains in love with the sport and city he landed in three decades ago, writes Amith Passela.
Thirty years and still not out for UAE cricket stalwart Lokhandwala
Mohamed Lokhandwala is so devoted to the game of cricket he left his wife, Nazma, alone at home on the first weekend after their wedding to play a match.
"My wife wasn't a big fan of cricket and didn't know anything about the game. She was in tears when I returned from the 50 over a side game, which meant I was away for the whole day," Lokhandwala said.
However, Nazma has come around to her husband's passion. "I took her out for the matches from the following weekend and she later became the official scorer for Air India for two years when she had to give up to look after our first child."
Lokhandwala became a committee member of the Dubai Cricket Council (DCC) when it was founded in 1989 and he has been there ever since. The Dubai Cricket Association was founded in the 1970s and later became the DCC.
Lokhandwala played the role of media liaison officer and wrote press releases, a job he still does. He became the honorary secretary 18 months ago when they decided to fully revive the domestic game.
The DCC was almost defunct after the Dubai Municipality's takeover of the grounds in Al Awir where they had staged matches until 2005.
"We had no place to conduct the tournaments," Lokhandwala said.
"We still tried to run the game by staging a few games at the Zabeel Park but there were very little activities. It was too expensive to conduct tournaments hiring private grounds.
"When members of the DCC got together to revive their activities, all those who were involved in the past rallied around us. For me, it was a challenge, and I had an excellent team to work with."
The DCC now runs more than 20 tournaments in the emirate.
Lokhandwala never thought he would end up spending more than 30 years in the Emirates, as he had a steady job at the Bank of India and played for their cricket team.
"I was very well established in Bombay [now Mumbai], enjoying super lifestyle, working for a leading institution and playing good cricket," he said.
"My elder sister got married and travelled to Dubai in the middle 70s and since then she had been insisting to come down for a holiday.
"I finally came for a week's holiday in 1982 and started to like the place. Even when I decided to stay back I thought it would be for two years. Now I have [just] completed 30 years.
"It has been a long journey, the biggest chunk of my working life. It was cricket that kept me here."
When he arrived, Lokhandwala contacted Vikram Kaul, the captain of Air India and later the honorary secretary of the DCC.
"I was in the team straight away and I started to enjoy playing for them," Lokhandwala said. "The cricket in Dubai wasn't very well structured. There was only one serious tournament, the Bukhatir League. It was played in Sharjah on a grass ground with a cement pitch."
Air India made regular tours abroad during the summer months and Lokhandwala made his first trip with them to England in August 1983. They played English county sides such as Hampshire, Yorkshire, Surrey and Sussex.
"This was huge exposure for me as I had been playing club cricket only in India. And to play against some of the leading county players that we have heard was just mind boggling for me," he said.
Some of the players he faced were England's Pat Pocock, Robin Smith and his older brother Chris. He had the opportunity to meet Brian Close and his high point came when went on to receive the man of the series award from Sir Len Hutton at Lord's. Lokhandwala also travelled to Kenya, Australia, and Sri Lanka with the Air India team. In Sri Lanka, he had the opportunity to play against Arjuna Ranatunga, the 1996 World Cup-winning captain who was playing for Sinhalese Sports Club.
Lokhandwala, who missed out in playing for the UAE in the 1996 World Cup (he was in the squad of 18 but failed to make it to the final 14), ended his playing career in 2006 after 24 years.
Now aged 55, he works as a regulatory manager for NMC Trading in Dubai. He has a daughter, 24, and son, 22, both born in Dubai.
His love for cricket both as a player and now as an administrator remains as strong as it was when he first arrived in Dubai.
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