'I was so disappointed': Arshad Ali recalls UAE's squandered chance at 2008 Asia Cup

Former player said playing for his adopted homeland at Lahore's Qaddafi Stadium 'a big achievement' despite disappointing showing

Only two players – Rohit Sharma and Mushfiqur Rahim – are still involved from the last time Pakistan staged an Asia Cup, back in 2008.

The fact they only have a part share in this year’s tournament means Rohit will not be heading back there this time, with India’s matches all scheduled for Sri Lanka instead.

One family will be represented again, though. Abdullah Shafique is part of the Pakistan squad for the tournament, which starts on Wednesday, 15 years after his uncle, Arshad Ali, played in the competition.

Rather than the green of Pakistan, Arshad was wearing the grey of UAE.

He had moved from Sialkot to Dubai for work when he turned 18. He landed a job on the strength of his cricket, and within fours years had qualified to play for his adopted homeland via the ICC’s residency criteria.

He represented the national team with distinction for years, with his zenith being the qualifying tournament for the 2008 Asia Cup.

Arshad was the top run scorer in that event in Malaysia, including 213 not out in a pool match against Brunei.

The UAE won the competition, and – along with losing finalists Hong Kong – were rewarded with a place at the Asia Cup.

Seven of the 15-player UAE squad for the tournament were Pakistani nationals, and Arshad said it was the realisation of a dream for each of them.

“We were going back home, to our own people, our own ground, where we had dreamed of playing when we were young,” Arshad said.

“It is like Australians wishing to play at Melbourne [Cricket Ground] and English people wishing to play at Lord’s. You want to go and play a game at the top level at Qaddafi Stadium if you are from Pakistan.

“We were so excited, and we had a good team, with guys like [captain] Saqib Ali and Khurram Khan. It was a big achievement.”

The UAE lost out in their pool matches in Lahore to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, who were the eventual champions.

Although each of the UAE players had day jobs, he said they were not overawed by going up against greats of the game like Muttiah Muralitharan, Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara.

“I came to UAE when I was young, 18 years old, and put all my hard work in here,” Arshad said.

“I would go to Sharjah Stadium, practice and practice, in the hope one day we could go back and play in our land.

“Luckily when we qualified for the Asia Cup, it was being played in Pakistan. We thought, ‘Let’s go.’

“We were never nervous. We didn’t care that we were playing against big players. We just wanted to play the game.

“We had four or five tough players, but then a few other new players who were a little confused. That is natural when you go to a bigger level.

“Once you get to the crease and start hitting singles and doubles, and getting boundaries, then you start to feel settled.”

Arshad, who now works in the HR department of Emirates airline, did not quite reprise his form from the qualifier when it came to the main event.

He made 41 in the opener against Bangladesh and was then run out by Chamara Kapugedera for just six in the game against the Sri Lankans.

“I was so disappointed,” he said. “It was a very good pitch at Qaddafi Stadium but I was run out by a direct hit.

“It was so sad. The Lahore pitch comes onto the bat well. In three balls against Nuwan Kulasekara I hit six runs. We were chasing 290 but said, ‘Whatever, let’s try to get the runs.’

“I hit the ball to cover and Kapugedera, who was a very good fielder, dived to his left and the ball went directly into his hand.

“I thought as I was running, ‘Oh, man.’ He hit directly, and I thought, ‘That’s bad luck.’”

Not all of Arshad’s family were able to make the two-hour trip from Sialkot to Lahore to watch him in action, but his sister, who was studying in the city, did come along.

“I was calling all my family members to come and watch,” Arshad said. “Now Abdullah is doing the same, calling us and saying, ‘Please come to watch.’

“I’ve been to some PSL matches of his when he was young in Dubai, but he didn’t get an opportunity. But hopefully we can see him soon here in Dubai for some international matches.”

Updated: August 28, 2023, 7:26 AM