Rahul Chopra targets World Cup with UAE after making grade with Dubai Capitals in ILT20

India-born batter is counting down the days until he is eligible for selection by his adopted country

Rahul Chopra in action for Dubai Capitals in the ILT20 against Gulf Giants at Sharjah Cricket Stadium on January 27, 2024. Photo: ILT20
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It might be easy to assume the cricketers who fill the UAE-player quota in the sides of the DP World International League T20 might feel nervous among the starry company they are currently keeping.

If Rahul Chopra feels deferential to his colleagues at Dubai Capitals, then he does not show it.

The middle-order batter has yet to play international cricket himself. He arrived in the UAE after seeing his opportunities to progress in the sport back at home in India dry up during the Covid pandemic.

To say he is counting down the days till he is eligible for selection for the national team is literally the case now. It is less than a week until he will have completed three years as resident, which is the ICC’s criteria for a player to represent an adopted nation.

Uncapped he may be, but it appears only a matter of time until that changes. The Capitals have backed him to bat in their middle order in this competition, after he impressed at casting in the ILT20 development tournament at the end of last year. And Ahmed Raza, the UAE assistant coach, is among the Capitals coaching staff.

At training at the ICC Academy on Wednesday, Chopra appeared at ease among the big guns undertaking power-hitting practice.

Rahmanullah Gurbaz, the Afghanistan World Cup star, and Jason Holder, the former world No 1 all-rounder, took turns to smack balls as far as they could from the centre wicket on Oval No 1.

When Chopra then had his go, he looked every bit the part, following his illustrious colleagues in endangering the football players in the neighbouring field.

He might not show it, but Chopra is grateful to be among the likes of Holder, Gurbaz and David Warner, the Australian who is the Capitals captain.

“The most important thing for me is that I have self-belief,” Chopra said.

“I believe in myself always and that I can compete at this level. Of course, on the field and off the field I have been learning a lot. Every day, something new.

“I am going to start putting all those things into my life so that I can become a better cricketer.”

The ILT20 requires that each side field at least two UAE players in their starting XI, with four per squad.

Last season, each of that quota of players had to be qualified to represent the UAE. The rules have been eased this time around to include players from the domestic game who have been in the country for less than three years. The proviso is that they have all stated their intention to qualify on residency grounds.

Some of the stars of the competition so far, like Mohammed Rohid and Usman Khan, fall into that category.

Chopra believes that he and the others can help bolster a UAE side that is already showing signs of promise based on talented players emerging from the country’s age-group set up.

“Once we complete the eligibility criteria and if we are selected into the national team, I think the standard for the team can go really high,” Chopra said.

“Rather than just participating with leading nations, hopefully we can be beating them.

“Once I’m eligible, of course I want to make it into the national team. I want to help bring success to the country and play at a World Cup for the UAE.”

If Chopra does play for the UAE in the future, he says it will repay the faith shown in him by Shahzad Altaf, the former national team seam bowler.

Altaf’s academy in Dubai has given opportunities to a raft of players, such as Usman, Chopra and Sagar Kalyan, who made his ILT20 debut for Abu Dhabi Knight Riders on Wednesday.

“When the world was hit by Covid, I got in touch with Mr Shahzad about joining the Goltay Academy,” Chopra said.

“He is the one who has got me contracts to play league cricket in Ajman. I’m very thankful that he was able to get me into the UAE to play cricket.

“Until that point, I had been one of the top performers in my district in Haryana for three years in a row. I couldn’t progress from there and for a couple of years because of Covid there was absolutely no cricket going on.

“I couldn’t see any future for me there, especially once I had moved out of the Under-23 category, which is why I looked to move here and start afresh.”

Updated: February 02, 2024, 7:08 AM