Rameez Shahzad skips downtime from West Indies series to help shape UAE's next generation

National team batter has started a new high-performance academy in Dubai alongside ex-UAE players Salman Farooq and Nasir Aziz

UAE cricketer Rameez Shahzad coaching at his new academy. Zenith Cricket Academy. Antonie Robertson / The National
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Given the soaring temperatures plus their arduous workload on the field, the UAE national team’s cricketers would have been forgiven for putting their feet up whenever time permits this week.

Especially Rameez Shahzad, who was forced to retire hurt during the first one-day international of their three-game series against West Indies in Sharjah on Sunday.

The team themselves have suffered two bruising defeats so far against their illustrious opponents, while Rameez suffered a literal blow when he was hit on the head by a well-directed bouncer from Odean Smith.

Rather than sit inside and lick his wounds, though, he has been back out in the heat, doing what he can to help bring about what he hopes will be a lasting impact on the game here.

The 35-year-old batter is one of three UAE internationals who are coaching at a new training centre, called Zenith Cricket Academy. On Wednesday afternoon, the day after the second ODI, he was running the rule over the academy’s high-performance players, who are enrolled in a progamme called “Road to UAE” run by the Vision Next event management company.

The premise is that Rameez, Salman Farooq and Nasir Aziz – his fellow coaches – will be able to draw on their own experiences in the game here to help guide those aspiring to follow them.

“Growing up I played a lot of cricket in UAE and I thought, ‘What can we do differently in our training?’,” Rameez said.

“We would do nets for 10 or 15 minutes, bowl for a bit, field for a bit, then go back home. It is the same process, over and over. It keeps on going.

“The question is how can we get the best youngsters and what can we do to improve that? I was coaching at an academy, and changed the set up a bit so the kids would bat for an hour or more.

“They were begging, saying, ‘We don’t want to bat anymore.’ It was the same with bowling. We would do things like tire them out before the session, then make them bat.

“We didn’t discuss any of these things. We wouldn’t tell them. Then slowly, when I saw them buying into this I pointed out to them that when you are tired out, you still have to perform your best.”

The programme is capped at 40 players, each of whom is seen as a potential UAE player in the future.

“For now, we have 14- to 19-year-olds, and the idea is for them to end up playing for UAE age group sides, and then hopefully the men’s in the future,” Farooq said.

“Nasir, Rameez and I have played a lot of cricket together in the past. We get along well. We know about Nasir’s cricket credentials, but he is also one of the hardest working coaches that I’ve seen.”

The academy plans to have exchange programmes overseas with organisations such as English county side Sussex, Pakistan Super League franchise Lahore Qalandars, and Delhi Capitals from the Indian Premier League.

They also have an affiliation with a sports mechanics and data analysis specialist in India, Ramakrishnan Subramanian, who has previously worked with the India team as well as Chennai Super Kings.

While Rameez hopes those opportunities will help the academy’s young players understand what is required in the elite game, he says the guiding principle will be hard work.

“We all [the three coaches] have been part of the set up, and I still am, so we know what they have facing them in the future,” Rameez said.

“We do Yo-Yo testing, the 2km runs, everything that they are going to have to do, but then we push them a bit more.

“If the target is 8mins 30 [for 2kms] they have to do it under 7min 30. So by the time they get there, they will be ready. We are trying our level best to push these kids.”

Updated: June 09, 2023, 3:01 PM