A young UAE cricketer's big chance

Rameez Shahzad has signed for a league club in northern England — and aims to move up.

Rameez Shahzad, a UAE national player who is making his mark in English league cricket, bats during net practice at the Pakistan Association Club in Dubai.
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When Rameez Shahzad first loaded up his bags before moving to England to study, he might as well have packed his autograph books as his university books.

Rameez, who last played for the UAE national team at the 2008 ACC Trophy in Malaysia, is dovetailing his studies in business management at the University of Newcastle with playing cricket as on overseas professional in the north of England.

The Sharjah-raised all-rounder's cricket commitments have not solely extended to club matches, first with Sunderland and, from next summer, his new club Barnard Castle.

He has also trained regularly with Durham, one of the leading county sides. As a result, he has had to navigate a number of net sessions against some of the country's fastest bowlers, such as Graham Onions and Liam Plunkett, the England seamers.

"I faced Onions once. Very fast!" Rameez, 22, said during a mid-term break back in the UAE. "Plunkett bowls very quick in the nets - and he likes bowling bouncers.

"They are very good people. When you meet them, they come up and introduce themselves and treat you like you are one of them."

Rameez is one half of the UAE's lone father-son international cricketing family to date. His father, Shahzad Altaf, who opened the bowling for the national team at the 1996 World Cup, is not overly concerned that his son is being distracted from his studies by sport.

"He is a good student when he wants to be, but all he wants to do is play cricket - all day every day," said Altaf.

The overseas professional has long been a feature of league cricket in the UK, with greats such as Gary Sobers and Shane Warne among those who found obscure summer homes in their early days in the sport.

However, these players are usually imported from more obvious cricket centres like South Africa, Australia or the West Indies. Having one from the UAE playing in the North East Premier League is somewhat of an oddity.

"It is strange, but mostly they just know me as a slogger," Rameez said. "When I come into bat usually they open the field out.

"Barnard Castle [the club he will join next summer] is a small place. If you are the overseas player, everyone wants to watch you.

"The standard is much better than here. There is more competition, more talent and the standard is very professional."

The UAE cricket export has obviously impressed. He was picked to play for Durham's second XI against England's Under 19 side, and also posted two half-centuries to help the cause of the county's academy sidein a four-team tournament at Loughborough University.

He hopes to stay in the UK for four years, thereby becoming English-qualified, and thus make a bid to win a full county contract.

He was also employed as a net bowler ahead of a one-day international between England and Pakistan at Durham's Emirates International Stadium at the end of the summer.

Saeed Ajmal gave him tips to improve his off-spin bowling, while Paul Collingwood, the England batsman, had extra time batting against him as his struggles against spin were ongoing in the middle.

The match was played in the immediate aftermath of the spot-fixing scandal breaking, but you would not have known it, according to Rameez.

"We did not really feel any difference," he said. "They were all friendly, even the Pakistani players."