But for the determination of Qasim Ebrahim Noorani, who has died aged 84, Sharjah would never have had its moment as a stage for international cricket.
A passion that brought cricket to the Emirates
But for the determination of Qasim Ebrahim Noorani, who has died aged 84, Sharjah would never have had its moment as a stage for international cricket. A passionate enthusiast for the game - which he regarded as the exemplary gentleman's sport - Noorani strove diligently to realise his dream of bringing cricket to the desert and was admired widely for the organisational skills that saw him appointed president of the Sharjah Cricketers Benefit Fund and patron of the Sharjah Cricket Council.
Born in Bombay in 1925, Noorani was orphaned at the age of five. He was brought up by his older sister Aziza, to whom he was devoted. Following Partition in 1947, the family moved to Karachi, where Noorani tried his hand at various businesses before settling on journalism. From 1950 to 1973 he worked for Dawn, the Pakistani newspaper launched in 1941 in Delhi by Mohammed Ali Jinnah. For a brief period during the 1990s he served as the managing director of Khaleej Times.
Following the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971, Noorani increasingly suffered harassment by the authorities for his criticism of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the newspaper's pages. Jailed on more than one occasion, in 1973 he decided to leave Pakistan. Family connections drew him to Sharjah, at the time in the ascendant following the discovery of oil. A lifelong friend of Abdulrahman Bukhatir, Noorani gained employment as the general manager of Bukhatir Investments in 1973. The company was involved in a wide spectrum of interests, ranging from trade to construction and investment, and grew over several decades from a small operation to an international business. Noorani lived in what was, at the time, the tallest building in Sharjah, a four-storey apartment block located on Al Arooba Street.
In his more than 40 years in the emirate he witnessed considerable change, not all of it, he thought, for the better. He lamented the rise in road traffic and yearned for the simpler life he had enjoyed in the '70s. He also noted the irony that by the 1990s Dubai's rapid development had led to Sharjah serving as its neighbour's dormitory, where previously the opposite had been true. Sharjah was where Noorani raised his three children, and it was the place he considered home. Though he visited Pakistan frequently, and established a couple of schools in Karachi in his sister's name, he never expressed any wish to return.
He placed great value on the rule of law in the UAE and appreciated the stability of life here compared with the turbulent politics that plagued his homeland. He shared his passion for cricket with Bukhatir, who later became the developer of Dubai Sports City. Together, the two men arranged to bring the game to Sharjah in 1984. As relations between India and Pakistan were strained, Sharjah held considerable appeal as a neutral venue where both national teams could meet and compete. Over the next two decades, some 198 One Day Internationals and a handful of Test Matches were hosted at the emirate's stadium.
Friends and family considered Noorani to be a man of integrity above all else, with a strong work ethic. "Of course," he told his son, Zahid, "everyone needs to work to make money, but one can also be fair and honest." He was also remarkably positive, even in the face of a cancer diagnosis. "When he was in hospital last year, sick and bedridden, despite the gloomy prognosis, he was absolutely determined to buy a new car and insisted on sending his driver out to the showrooms to look for suitable models," said his son.
Aside from cricket, Noorani was an excellent bridge player. As president of the Sharjah Bridge Association, he arranged annual bridge contests and weekly meets. Well-dressed, approachable and deeply respected, those who knew him referred to him affectionately as "Mama" (Uncle). Qasim Ebrahim Noorani was born on May 22, 1925, and died on October 22. He is survived by his wife Nargis, daughters Nermeen and Samira, and son Zahid.
* The National