The Rediff Cricket Interview/ Abdul Rehman Bukhatir
'Sharjah cricket will miss India'
Sharjah cricket will miss India," says Abdul Rehman Bukhatir, chairman of the Cricketers Benefit Fund Series and the moving spirit behind cricket in Sharjah.
Bukhatir is an unhappy man today, following India's decision to not participate in cricket tournaments at the desert venue for the next three years.
"This is not the first time that something like this is happening," Bukhatir points out. " India withdrew ten years ago as well, and the game still continued in Sharjah. The game will go on. India is not solely responsible for Sharjah’s success," says the man who introduced cricket in the desert way back in 1981.
Excerpts from a telephone conversation with Cricket Correspondent Faisal Shariff:
How badly will India's withdrawal affect cricket in Sharjah?
The impact of India’s withdrawal will not be so much on Sharjah as on the overall effort to consolidate the game in the entire Asian region. The effort to capitalize on the interest in Asia is what has been harmed. Thanks to cricket in Sharjah, the game was gaining interest in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the other Gulf countries; and that adds up to a lot of numbers. They deserved all the chances in the world to watch and enjoy the sport. The game has to spread across the globe.
But it is still an expatriate game, isn’t it?
That is a very unfair statement to make. What about the West Indies, Canada and Hong Kong? Even in these countries, expatriates played the game, the locals didn’t.
What has happened to the inquiry that the CBFS had ordered?
The inquiry is on. And despite the fact that there is just one per cent mention of Sharjah in the CBI report on match-fixing, we have announced the inquiry. I have never said that there is nothing happening in Sharjah. If the CBI has said that there is something happening, then we have to see what it was, and how far it has reached.
They say that some bookie spoke to some CBFS official. Now tell me, how difficult is match-fixing? If a bookie speaks to a player on the phone and fixes a game, what does a venue have to do with that? Why blame Sharjah?
There have been 170-plus matches here, and there is only one line about the venue in the CBI report. Sounds a little hard to believe.
Sharjah is such a high profile centre, it is not possible for people to fix matches at such a venue, which is watched so closely by so many people.
However, we have a instituted an inquiry, with a high-power team in place. There is George Staple from England, who specialises in financial services, regulatory investigations and disputes. Former West Indian skipper Clive Lloyd will head the committee, and there is also Brigadier Mohammed Almoallah, who is from the ministry in the UAE and deals in money-laundering cases.
Have Lloyd and Staple come to Sharjah? What is the nature of the inquiry?
Yes, they have come once and spoken to a couple of people here. They have been making their inquiries from London as well. They will come again. They have been corresponding from London with the ICC as well. In the next two months, we will publish a primary report. The inquiry will look at the charges made by the various investigative agencies, and their match-fixing reports.
We have already achieved a lot, with many individuals denying allegations made by I S Bindra. The Pakistan secretary who, according to Bindra, had told him that a match between India and New Zealand was fixed has denied any such conversation. Former India board president N K P Salve has also refuted any such incident of match-fixing.
Did you ever suspect any malpractice in the results at Sharjah over the last 20 years?
We have just heard about match-fixing recently. It is obvious now that it did not need a Sherlock Holmes to find about match-fixing. One doesn’t have to go searching for fingerprints (laughs). Our inquiry will establish if anything has happened. If there is something wrong, then we will bring those people to book.
What action can the CBFS take against the players, if anyone is found guilty?
The laws of the UAE are pretty strict. We will take it to the authorities and bring them to book.
You say there is some conspiracy to sabotage the Sharjah tournament. Could you explain?
Sharjah is a threat to other venues. There are some television companies who are unhappy with the success that Sharjah has achieved. The venues that can’t deal with our success are trying hard to highlight the faults. There are some individuals also who have a problem. We know that we are clean and that we have only wanted good cricket in Sharjah. Cricket is all that matters here. It is not a business for us.
We will miss India and we do hope that they change their mind. But it is only one of the many countries that have played cricket here. Nothing will ever stop cricket from being played here. Ours is a cricketing effort.
Why has Asif Iqbal quit the CBFS at a time when cricket in the desert is in crisis?
Asif has been our main man for many years now. He has been dealing with the boards on our behalf and his contribution has been enormous. He will be missed, but then in an organization no one is indispensable. He said he was disturbed that cricket was not being dealt with in the right manner and there was too much politics in the game.
Does it have anything to do with the fact that there is an inquiry going on and Asif Iqbal has accepted that he knew Anil Steel, a bookie from India?
See, I can’t speak for him. But as far as I know he wasn’t ever involved with anyone who was remotely linked to the scandal.
Has ganglord Dawood Ibrahim’s presence at Sharjah been responsible for the notoriety associated with the venue?
He came to the ground 12 years ago. And at that time, he wasn't India's most wanted man. Now he doesn't even live in this country anymore. If somebody stayed in this country and came to the ground, are we responsible for that? He stayed in India as well, so why isn't India notorious for letting him stay? In that case why not ask the film stars, who would go and sit with him? Aren't they guilty too?
How does it feel to know that the ICC does not recognise Sharjah as a regular venue?
The ICC cannot say that. We have worked all these years with their blessings. Sir Colin Cowdrey, Sir Clyde Walcott, Dalmiya and now Malcolm Gray have all helped us from time to time.
What Gray said was that since the Sharjah matches were not on the ICC calendar, they could not do anything about India pulling out of the tourney. The calendar was presented only last month in Australia. There are many tournaments which are not on the ICC calendar, like the Asia Cup and the Australasia Cup.
The games in Sharjah are played under the ICC rules and regulations, we are given ICC umpires, how then can the ICC not recognise us?
The ICC has written to us on many occasions and co-ordinate with us all the time.
What, according to you, has been Sharjah’s contribution to world cricket?
Sharjah has been responsible for giving one day internationals the stature it enjoys today. Neutral umpires stood in a game for the first time in Sharjah; match referees came into play for the first time in Sharjah. Overseas television rights came in when cricket started here.
Mail Cricket Editor