Thirteen years ago, at a time when the cricket world could not yet anticipate the transformative impact of emerging Indian player Virat Kohli, Abdul Rahman Bukhatir recognized a spark in a team of unassuming cricketers from a war-torn nation.
In 2010, the visionary Emirati businessman, known for revolutionizing cricket in the desert during the 1980s, first noticed the potential for the sport in Afghanistan. A group of Afghan cricketers, many of whom learned the game in refugee camps in Pakistan during the American war against the Taliban, captured Bukhatir’s attention with their skills and resilience at the 2009-2010 Intercontinental Cup—a first-class cricket tournament for associate members of the International Cricket Council (ICC).
Despite being unable to play any home matches in Kabul due to security concerns, Afghanistan’s nomadic team triumphed, winning five out of six four-day matches across the globe before securing victory in the final at the Dubai International Stadium against Scotland.
Moved by the unwavering spirit of the Afghan cricket team amid a raging war, Bukhatir decided to extend a helping hand. He announced that the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, which he had built in 1982 to bring international cricket to the UAE, would host all Afghanistan home matches.
According to Mazhar Khan, General Manager of the Sharjah Cricket, this support from Bukhatir was pivotal for Afghanistan’s cricket development. The team utilized Sharjah’s facilities from 2010 onwards for five to six years before eventually moving to India.
Since then, Afghanistan’s cricket has flourished, producing players in high demand in T20 franchise leagues worldwide, including the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL). Their impressive performance at the 2023 ODI World Cup, with victories against former world champions Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and England, has garnered widespread attention.
Bukhatir’s role in fostering Afghanistan’s cricket talent is considered instrumental by Khan. He believes that the seeds planted by Bukhatir in Sharjah laid the foundation for the current crop of players to excel on the world stage. Notably, players like Rashid Khan, the world-class leg-spinner, have made a significant impact.
Khan, who passionately follows every Afghan match, takes pride in Sharjah’s contribution to the team’s success. Many Afghan international players, including Mohammad Nabi, were regular participants in the Bukhatir League, the UAE’s oldest local cricket tournament, until recently.
The latest beneficiary of Bukhatir’s generosity is Hassan Khan, the 18-year-old son of Mohammad Nabi. A hard-hitting batsman, Hassan aspires to play international cricket for the Afghan team alongside his father and regularly showcases his talent for Bukhatir XI in UAE’s domestic tournaments.
Bukhatir’s special connection with Afghanistan continues to be a driving force behind his ongoing support for the team, reinforcing his unparalleled contribution to promoting cricket in the region.