Pakistan star Mohammed Rizwan's days of hard work and humility in the UAE

Record-breaking batsman's former teammate Adil Mirza recalls a shy individual who was diligent with his fitness

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To the wider cricket public, the first impressions of Mohammed Rizwan in Sharjah were those of an impudent upstart with little respect for senior figures, much less the opposition.

Back in November 2015, as a little-known, 23-year-old drinks carrier, he managed to invoke the ire of England greats Roe Root and James Anderson as 12th man for Pakistan.

While ferrying drinks out to the middle for Pakistan’s batters after a break in play for a decision review, he stopped and taunted England’s players. He folded his arms across his chest to signal they were about to receive bad news.

Harmless mirth it might have been, but the England players did not take kindly to being trolled. Root as good as chased the laughing substitute from the field.

The impression he gave that day could hardly be further from the truth, according to those who know him well – and those who had called him a teammate in Sharjah long before that point.

Rather than cheeky or impertinent, they would attribute terms to him such as hard-working, low-maintenance, respectful, and an example to follow.

“I know him as a very nice guy,” said Adil Mirza, who was a teammate – and employer – of Rizwan in UAE domestic cricket.

“When he is in your team, he talks less, but what he says is important. He prays five times a day. Whatever you give him to eat, he will eat quietly. He is a shy guy and very humble.”

Mirza is a Dubai-based businessman who first moved to the UAE from Pakistan in 2003. He also runs one of the most successful A-Division teams in the country, which is, to all intents and purposes, his staff team.

Currently, they go by the name of Future Mattress, to promote one of his latest business ventures. Previous to that, they were Phoenix Medicine, advertising the pharmaceuticals branch of the firm.

That was the team in which Rizwan played, following a line of Pakistan internationals that included the likes of Sharjeel Khan, Sohail Khan, and Zulfiqar Babar.

Pakistan's Mohammad Rizwan celebrates after making the winning run against India in their opening match. Reuters

Mirza puts the imported players up in a three-bedroom apartment near his office in Deira. Rizwan, he said, was the most welcome guest.

“When he came here he said to me, ‘Adil-bhai, don’t worry about me - I just want a nice and clean room where I can pray, and whatever kind of food is there I will eat it,” Mirza said.

“He is a hard worker. In our club matches in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, after every match, our local boys would all say, ‘Mr Adil, we need to eat now’.

“He would say, ‘Mr Adil, let me do five laps first’. He was that energetic, even after 50-over matches he was doing sit-ups, then laps, and only then head back home for dinner.

“Even my local boys, the UAE national team players, would say, ‘No training after the match’. He would do 100-200 sit-ups. He is a good man and I wish him all the best.”

A few years on, Rizwan has returned to play a World Cup in the UAE as a world star. In Pakistan’s most recent win – their fifth in succession in this tournament – he claimed the record for the most runs in a calendar year in T20 international cricket. He bettered Chris Gayle in doing so.

Mirza says he never doubted Rizwan could scale such heights – even if his time to shine was delayed slightly longer than he anticipated.

“I used to speak to him and say, ‘Rizwan, we have not seen you on the TV yet’,” Mirza said.

“He would say, ‘Adil, don’t worry about it: when Allah wills it, my time will come’. Now it is his time, and he is proving his point.

“It is great seeing Pakistan and Babar Azam doing so well. But when you know a guy that closely, it means even more.

“In the game against Scotland, he looked up to where I was sat and waved to me. That makes me proud, that people still remember me even when he is so good in the Pakistan team.

“He doesn’t have to remember me. What I have done with him was five years back, when he was not part of the team. Today he messages me, asks how I am, tells me he is playing well.

“That gives you an emotional closeness to the person, when he remembers you in his good days.”

Updated: November 11, 2021, 3:25 AM