If you’re Pakistani you’re familiar with cricket. You’ve either played it, watched it, or heard about it. To a young Pakistani male, cricket is an undeniable rush that propels the Ferris wheel of life. I remember my own days as a schoolboy when cricket was like the second religion we all quietly followed. We talked about it, we played it, and we sure as day watched it – televised or live. Such is the Pakistani obsession with the cricket that when Pakistan won the World Cup in 1992, the Pakistani director of the most famous Television channel in Dubai’s media history, Channel 33, actually interrupted regular transmission to run patriotic Pakistani songs to express unison with the emotional expatriate Pakistani community who were over the moon with joy. The street cricket and the street glory meant everything to the players who played the game.
For the Pakistani kids growing up in Dubai, that unsung passion for the sport was no less than our brethren back home. Every vacant parking lot, building basement, alley, playground, park, or walkway was a cricket oval and each game was a quest for fame. At times, these friendly cricket games were instrumental in boosting morale for budding participants. The outcome of each game was a yardstick by which individual performances were measured, evaluated, and discussed. For me personally, along with the other kids in my class at school and in my neighborhood, street cricket was the stepping stone towards playing the more realistic version of the game on an actual pitch in the formal white cricket gear; at times, with seasoned veterans of the game.
The Night Cricket – Street Glory
Another form of cricket that was popular in the UAE at the time was Night cricket especially during the Muslim Holy month of fasting, as the grounds were abundant and power outages were mythical folklore so we indulged abundantly. The regular red cork ball would be replaced with a white cork ball and the games would proceed at night time instead of the day. This would offer some respite from the desert sun as well as making many a memorable tournament a topic of discussion for days, at times weeks.
When I was actively a part of this cricket sub-culture that governed our lives back in those days, I got to play many a game that was glorified. For instance, I can never forget one game I played as an extra for the Dubai Aluminium Company on their private cricket ground where I took a catch off the bowling of the UAE spin king who also captained the Emirates Cricket Board side in the 1996 World Cup, and he patted my back in acknowledgment. Similarly, in one school game, I hit a swashbuckling 68 runs in just 30 some odd deliveries, an innings that became the talk of the school the next day. Street Glory was all we wanted and hailed in that moment as well.
Golden Leaves in the Annals of Nostalgia
There are countless such historic games that are golden leaves in the annals of nostalgia but there is one game in particular that I cannot forget even if I wanted to – a story for the ages as they say. It was Ramadan 1993, and three of my friends who were regular players in our residential community team that I also captained had joined an external team called Bombay Cricket Club (BCC). The captain of the BCC was an Indian guy from Goa who himself was not that much of a prolific player but with the three new outstanding additions to his team in the form of my players, he had hit a jackpot of sorts. He had enlisted the team in a Night Cricket League that was being played at one of the Dubai Labor Supply Company’s cricket grounds in Sonapur (a suburban district of Dubai City). For one very important game, the team had fallen short of a player by accident and I had been requested to tag along as a replacement at the last hour.
The game I was invited to play in was the final match with BCC’s arch-rival and it was a significant game as there was a cash prize in the kitty. For an otherwise perfunctory game, I had mostly been in the shadows for the whole match as I had bowled a couple of expensive overs without picking up a wicket, and the boys in the top order had played a good game to start off with a decent run chase but the middle order had collapsed embarrassingly.
The Moment of Glory – The Street Glory
Without any premonition as though Lady Glory was seeking me out on a prayer and a whisper, the match converged into a precarious position where we needed a few runs to win with the last batter in at the non-striker end, and myself at the striker end. It came down to a very tight finish with a measly 4 runs required in 3 balls and the opposing team’s lead strike bowler hurling in speedy incoming yorkers that are generally hard to pick out as it is. With 2 balls left to the match, and our captain having bit off half his hand as a side dish to his nails that he kept biting nervously even as this legendary finish unfolded out in the middle, I played a smashing cover-drive bowler’s back that raced to the boundary fence like a tracer bullet. I had scored 9 invaluable runs in 7 balls faced and had instrumentally won a game that was otherwise hanging by a ledge.
The sizable Sonapur crowd that had gathered around for the game, along with members of my team, and the food vendors that had set up stalls to sell hot tea and hard-boiled eggs all rushed on to the ground at once. I just remember a sea of human heads raging towards me like a high surf in the ocean. The entire crowd lifted me up on their shoulders and carried me off the ground hailing me as the hero for the night with one vendor actually gifting me an egg in sheer joy. Not only had I cemented my place in the BCC side, but a personal legend was born that night; a timeless moment of glory that is precious enough to be passed down for generations.