Furniture maker’s son is an instant hit on debut alongside stars at ILT20

Zuhaib Zubair made an impact in the field and with the ball to help set up Gulf Giants’ win against Dubai Capitals in Sharjah

Zuhaib Zubair celebrates his dismissal of Rahul Chopra while on debut for Gulf Giants in the ILT20. Photo: ILT20
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Zuhaib Zubair could be forgiven for feeling nervous ahead of his Gulf Giants debut against Dubai Capitals in the DP World International League in Sharjah.

Aged just 20, it was the first time the leg-spinner was getting the chance to play in front of a TV audience, let alone a substantial crowd beyond the boundary.

His teammates included stars of the world game that he has grown up watching franchise and international cricket. And David Warner was the captain of the opposition. David actual Warner.

Even from a mere local perspective, the pressure was on him. Zubair has yet to win a cap for the UAE, yet he was picked in place of Aayan Khan, the wonderkid of cricket in the Emirates.

He dispelled the nerves in spectacular fashion, though. On the seventh ball of his debut, he executed a perfect direct hit run out to dismiss Rahmanullah Gurbaz, after a mix up with Warner.

It earned him the most starry bundle he has been involved in so far in his young career, and a bear-like embrace from Shimron Hetmyer, the Guyanese Indian Premier League star.

“It was great to get that run out at that stage because I had felt nervous and under pressure before,” Zubair said.

“I am glad it worked out like that. Everybody came to hug me and cheer me on, and wished me well for my debut.

“It couldn’t have felt any better than when Hetmyer came to hug me. To have that with such a big star, I was ecstatic about that.”

Zubair has lived in the UAE since 2016, but his association with the country stretches back further than that – to before he was even born, in fact.

His father first moved to Sharjah in 2004 and established a furniture-making business. He suggested his son come to join him from their home Sialkot in Pakistan eight years ago, to continue his schooling here.

Zubair, who idolised Shahid Afridi and tried to bowl like him, went to Sharjah Cricket Academy, where his leg-spin bowling impressed. He has subsequently played age-group cricket for the UAE, and his next goal is to make the senior team.

“I want to represent the UAE senior team one day and hope I can get recognised after playing in this tournament,” he said.

He has already caught the eye of one notable figure – the Gulf Giants head coach, Andy Flower.

“We are lucky with our UAE players,” Flower said. “Zuhaib is another option as a useful leg-spin and googlie bowler, who is very enthusiastic, a good fielder and can bat a little bit.

“It is really important for your chances of success in this tournament to have good UAE players. Also, for the growth of the UAE game, for these guys to get opportunities, proper opportunities.”

The run-out wasn’t Zubair’s sole contribution to the three-wicket win over the Capitals. Zubair also took a wicket from the fifth delivery he bowled.

That was doubly joyous for him because of the identity of the player he dismissed. Rahul Chopra, the uncapped UAE batter in the Capitals middle order, has been a close mate of Zubair’s via their time together at Goltay Academy in Dubai.

“I’ve been playing with Rahul for a number of years and I know he likes to sweep,” Zubair said.

“I was trying to keep him away from playing that shot, and luckily for me, it was a good ball that he got out to.”

Updated: January 28, 2024, 8:44 AM