With nine top-level cricket matches scheduled to take place in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the next few weeks, you’d think the focus of the series would be on the wealth of prodigiously talented cricketers battling it out on the pitch. Unfortunately, it’s the fear that bribes from sub-continental bookmakers might be influencing the outcome of games that threatens to overshadow the matches.
The suspicions started after an undercover sting by English tabloid newspaper News of the World, which led to three Pakistani players being accused of taking cash bribes to bowl no-balls at set times during matches. The players in question – captain Salman Butt and bowlers Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Amir – have been suspended while UK police investigate further. The news broke at a tough time for Pakistani cricket, after an attack by militant gunmen on the Sri Lankan team’s tour bus in 2009 led to the International Cricket Council declaring the country unsafe and ordering all of Pakistan’s home games to be played at neutral venues abroad.
Hence the arrival of the series in the UAE. While this is a boon for the thousands of cricket-mad expats – specifically the Pakistani and South African contingent – if there’s even the slightest suspicion of any irregularities on the field, it could take the shine off what promises to be a toughly fought clash, with some of the greats of the modern game battling it out for glory.
Among the South Africans, one of the players tipped to make a huge impact is star batsman Hashim Amla, who has made a name for himself as one of the game’s most graceful, elegant stroke makers. As a devout Muslim of Indian descent, he’s also a symbol of South African sports’ multiracial make-up, which has blossomed since the collapse of the apartheid system.
In an exclusive chat with Time Out, he flatly refused to comment on the controversial match-fixing scandal, other than to say he hoped cricket would be the main talking point during the four-week tour. However, he was brimming with enthusiasm about the prospects of playing in the UAE.
What are you expecting from your tour in the UAE?
I’ve never been to the UAE before, so there is fair bit of excitement and anxiousness about what we’re going to come up against. All I really know about the country is that it’s really, really hot and humid, which is going to make it difficult to keep going throughout the hot days, especially for our bowlers.
Who do you think will be the toughest opponents on the Pakistan team?
They have some quality young players as well as a veteran bowling attack, with Shoaib Akhtar and Umar Gul, who are brilliant bowlers. They have some great spinners, such as Saeed Ajmal, who I’m sure will make it tough in the middle overs of the games.
Who are the best players on your team?
We’re blessed to have world-class batsmen such as Graeme Smith, AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis, who have proved to be major players for us in the batting line-up. Our bowlers, Dale Steyn, Charl Langeveldt, Morne Morkel, and young up-and-coming guys such as Wayne Parnell, are also world class. We have a well-balanced squad and playing this series will help us gain experience in playing under conditions on the subcontinent.
Even though you aren’t in Pakistan, the sheer number of Pakistani expats in the UAE must surely make you feel like the away team.
It will be interesting to see how it plays out. I hope the South African fans will turn up in their numbers, too, to make plenty of noise.
On a personal note, how do you feel your career is progressing?
I had a great season last year, and I seem to have secured my place in the team, which is great. I want to try to keep learning, continue to gain experience and just keep getting better and better.
See Hashim Amla and South Africa take on Pakistan at Dubai Sports City Cricket Stadium from Friday 3 until Tuesday 16. Tickets start at Dhs25 from www.timeouttickets.com. For more info, see www.dubaisportscity.ae
Where to watch the action
Third One-Day International, 3pm, Dubai Sports City Cricket Stadium
Fourth One-Day International, 3pm, Dubai Sports City Cricket Stadium
Fifth One-Day International, 3pm, Dubai Sports City Cricket Stadium
Friday 12-Tuesday 16
First Test, 10am, Dubai Sports City Cricket Stadium