Doha, Qatar – For taxi driver Mohammad Siyad, watching his favourite cricketers in the flesh was a dream come true.
Siyad was among nearly 7,000 fans who gathered at the Asian Town Cricket Stadium on Monday to watch the final of the Legends League Cricket (LLC) Twenty20 tournament that featured former greats like Shahid Afridi, Jaques Kallis, Ross Taylor and Misbah ul-Haq.
“I had never imagined I would be seeing so many legends in person,” the Sri Lankan national told Al Jazeera at the stadium in a working-class neighbourhood outside the Qatari capital, Doha.
The 10-day tournament, the second of its kind after the inaugural version in Oman last year, featured three teams – the India Maharajas, the Asia Lions and the World Giants, featuring cricketers from the rest of the world.
The event, where retired cricketing legends come back to play competitive cricket, also brought plenty of cheer and triggered old memories for the nearly 1.3 million cricket-crazy South Asian diaspora in the Gulf state.
“I have grown seeing these men play on TV. To see them in flesh and blood now is so very exciting,” said Siyad as he waved a Sri Lankan flag.
The Sri Lankans had a lot to cheer about during the final between the Asia Lions – led by the iconic Pakistani cricketer Afridi – and the World Giants, with Australia’s Shane Watson as its captain.
Batting first, the Giants, pummelled by some sharp bowling by Pakistan’s Abdur Razzak and Afridi, managed to post just 147 – a modest target in a T20 game.
In reply, Sri Lanka’s opening pair of Upul Tharanga and Tillakaratne Dilshan delivered a treat for the spectators, hitting the opposition bowlers – led by the likes of Australian paceman Brett Lee – all over the ground.
Construction worker Subhash Nishantha, 47, could not contain his excitement as he ran across the aisle holding two tiny plastic Sri Lankan flags.
“I am here to enjoy,” he said.
Tharanga and Dilshan ended up scoring 115 for the opening wicket, both scoring half-centuries in the process and making the chase a breeze for the Lions on the way to the title.
“I last played international cricket in 2015, so it has been a while,” said Tharanga as he was declared the “Legend of the Tournament” for scoring the most runs. He hit three 50s in the four games he played.
Most Pakistanis in the crowd wanted to watch their hero Afridi bat. While his team’s authority on the field meant Afridi was not needed with the bat, loud cheers of “Lala, lala” – as the cricketer is fondly called in Pakistan – greeted him on the field in the first innings.
He would often wave back with a smile.
“I hope to come back next year. Before that, I need some more training,” he said after the game.
The missing ‘Maharajas’
Twenty20 cricket is where the “gentleman’s game” meets the market. India, with a population of 1.3 billion, is the game’s biggest market. It was no surprise, therefore, that India influenced the way the game was played at the Asian Town Cricket Stadium.
The latest songs from the Indian film industry punctuated every over – sometimes every ball – or when a boundary was hit or a batter was dismissed.
A group of fans – dressed in all yellow – from the southern Indian state of Kerala played drums throughout the game, adding to the cheer despite the absence of Indian cricketers on the field.
On Saturday, the India Maharajas were eliminated from the event by the Asia Lions, despite captain Gautam Gambhir leading from the front and some stunning catches by Mohammad Kaif, who, at 46, still defies gravity by his fitness.
Khursheed Mohammad Zahiruddin, a truck driver in Qatar, said while he missed his favourite team, he was there for the love of the game.
“Maybe they will return next year,” the 35-year-old told Al Jazeera.