What a terrific game! Yes, indeed it was, it was none other than India’s former-cricket-captain-turned-commentator Sunil Gavaskar, who wrote on his Instagram page after witnessing the FIFA World Cup final between Argentina and Qatar in Doha on Sunday.
The former Indian captain knows a thing or two about a terrific win, as he was part of the history-making Indian team which won the Cricket World Cup at the Lord’s Cricket Ground in 1983 under the leadership of Kapil Dev, a win which would change the face of cricket in the country.
It was a final which was an absolute thriller, with six goals scored in 120 minutes, a late fightback from France, not once but twice and then the penalty shoot-out which decided the title winner.
Nearly four decades back Gavaskar and his teammates were rank outsiders against the then high and mighty West Indies, but they pulled off one of the sensational wins in the low-scoring final over the Caribbean cricketers.
The win on Sunday was a thriller albeit on a football field.
The Mumbai-born ‘Little Master’ took sheer delight in the matches of the football showpiece event and watched two semifinals and the final.
He took time to post a picture with former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who was part of the FIFA Technical Study Group of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022
Gavaskar was not the only Indian cricketer in Qatar for the World Cup, two other former India captains, Ravi Shastri and Saurav Ganguly were also there for the final.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), General Secretary Jay Shah also witnessed the final.
The 29-day football fiesta brought the Jogo bonito into the spotlight but cricket continues to be the most followed game in Qatar, thanks to the large Asian communities who are based in Qatar.
The Sri Lankan community rolled out the red carpet to former World Cup winner Sanath Jayasuriya, and also to another former international Farveez Maharoof, both of who watched some group matches before heading back to the island country.
Bangladesh, which has several people working in the cricket game in Qatar, saw the former captain of the national team Habibul Bashar, Akram Khan, who is the chief selector of the Bangladesh Cricket Board, Mohammad Sanwar Hossain and Tamim Iqbal witnessing the high-intensity matches in Qatar.
Among the current players, Pakistan’s Shaheen Shah Afridi and Haris Rauf were the two who were in the spotlight obliged by posing for selfies and pictures with the Asian community in Qatar.
Former England batsman Kevin Pietersen was also in town and followed most of the matches of the Three Lions. He is not new to Qatar having been to the country a decade back at the invitation of a businessman, who wanted to promote cricket in Qatar, but those plans did not materialize.
Those failed plans, there are many in the pipeline that the current office-bearers of Qatar Cricket Association headed by Sheikh Abdulaziz Bin Saoud Al Thani want to take forward,
The Qatar national cricket team, both men’s and women’s, consists of players who were born in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and occasionally someone from Nepal and Afghanistan, A few younger players are those born in Qatar but to parents who were born in Asia.
The game is not of much interest to the Qatari youths although the President of the Qatar Cricket Association is a Qatari and has some long-term plans to promote the game among the Asian communities especially with Qatar hosting the Asian Games in 2030.
The QCA officials who are working under Sheikh Abdulaziz, hailing from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are trying to use the star appeal of some of the former cricketers from India and getting feedback to improve the game.
The QCA which earlier rolled the red carpet for Virat Kholi, ahead of the Asia Cup in Dubai, did this time around for Ganguly and Shastri, what transcribed between the QCA officials and the Indian cricketers remains confined to the four walls as like all things the QCA officials rarely communicate with the media and the lower rung personnel are not authorised to give information to the press.
But one thing is certain none of the Qatari youngsters are interested in the game and no plans are made to get them into the gentleman’s game in Qatar by QCA.
All the efforts to promote the game are by private clubs owing allegiance to some private companies, some who are employed with the companies and some working elsewhere and playing the game on the weekends as a hobby.
Syed Rafi, hailing from the Indian state of Hyderabad a cricket and music promoter and who also dabbles as a content creator says most of the players play the game as a hobby.
“On Fridays, which is a holiday in Qatar, they start matches at 5.00 am, when the sun comes out. They do not play with the hard ball but with the hard tennis ball and there are some 60 to 70 clubs in Qatar,” said Rafi.
“We have three to four grounds in different parts of Qatar where you can play leather ball cricket and a number of grounds at Losail, where the QCA holds the league,” he added.
“I have never come across any Qatari playing cricket in my 16 years in Qatar,” added Rafi, who witnessed a few football matches in Qatar during the World Cup and is waiting for the top cricket action.
With most of the Qatari players being amateur, they are eagerly awaiting contracts from QCA, which they are hopeful of getting in the months ahead with Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia handing short and long-term contracts to their players, who incidentally trace their roots to Asia with an occasional native player thrown in.