Pakistan Vs South Africa in UAE – Scandal saps Pakistani fans in Gulf


ABU DHABI: Pakistani taxi driver Kamal Shah has been part of the madding crowd addicted to international cricket ever since matches first came to the Gulf three decades ago. Privately he was delighted when Pakistan was forced to host matches in the United Arab Emirates, far from Islamist militants and rampant insecurity at home, because it gave him the chance to watch his idols.
But spot-fixing allegations against Pakistan on their recent tour of England has left Shah with a bitter taste in the mouth. “I started hating cricket, I didn’t want to watch cricket,” the 52-year-old told AFP. “But I couldn’t resist when I heard Pakistan was playing South Africa, and bought tickets for me and my friends.
Hundreds of Pakistani expatriats, mostly taxi drivers and other transport workers, thronged the Sharjah stadium when the Cricketers Benefit Fund Series was played there between 1982-2003. Three years ago, the focus shifted to the Abu Dhabi Stadium, which has hosted international cricket since 2007, and where matches Friday were packed.
Shah feels, however, that the latest controversies surrounding Pakistan will eat into the team’s fan base. “I may be there, but the passion I had for the team and the players is lost. Wasn’t the terrorists’ tag enough for us — that these players earnt us the ignominy of being fixers?”
Scotland Yard raided the team’s hotel in London after British tabloid, News of the World, claimed that seven Pakistani players were involved in spot-fixing during the Lord’s Test against England in August. Police interrogated Test captain Salman Butt and bowlers Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Aamer and Wahab Riaz but have yet to formally level any charges.
The International Cricket Council (ICC), which is also investigating the case, provisionally suspended Salman, Asif and Aamer on charges of violating players’ code of conduct. An ICC commissioner will hear appeals from Salman and Aamer in Dubai on Saturday and Sunday. Asif has withdrawn his appeal.
Shah said he gets angry when tourists brand the players “fixers.”Fellow Pakistani cab driver Kabir Khan agreed that fans are disheartened but predicted that they would still go to the stadium. “I won’t go to the ground anymore because the team is not playing well and on top of that they are accused of all sorts of corruption and disciplinary problems,” said Khan, who hails from the lawless tribal district of Kurrum.
Catastrophic flooding caused by torrential rains affected 21 million people in Pakistan this summer and territory the size of England in the country’s worst natural disaster. Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked bomb attacks have killed more than 3,740 people in the last three years. A covert American drone campaign targeting Islamist militant commanders in the tribal belt is also deeply unpopular at home.
Fehmida Rana, a Pakistani house wife living in Abu Dhabi, said she will never give up on her love for cricket. “I went to cheer the Pakistani players and will do so whatever the world says about my team,” she said, carrying a placard saying: “whatever the world says, we will continue supporting Pakistan cricket.”