Nursing cramp and heat exhaustion, but also the warm glow of satisfaction, Aayan Afzal Khan sent a message of thanks halfway across the world to his parents, after scripting one of the greatest wins in the history of UAE cricket.
The Sharjah schoolboy, who only turned 16 in November, played the seminal role in the national age-group side’s extraordinary 82-run win over West Indies in the Under 19 World Cup on Friday.
Victory put the UAE into Monday’s plate final, where they will play the winner of Saturday’s second semi-final between Ireland and Zimbabwe.
All had seemed lost when the hosts reduced them to 24 for four in Trinidad, only for Aayan to alter the face of the game.
The Goa-born allrounder, who has lived in UAE since he was two years old, made 93 before he was the last player out. That underpinned UAE’s total of 224 for nine.
West Indies scarcely threatened in reply, and Aayan even returned to the field to take the final wicket – having earlier been stretchered off while suffering from cramp.
The teen put his success down to the sacrifices made by his father, Afzal, and mother, Shahista, to help him pursue cricket.
“My parents have come through a lot of struggles and brought me at here at this stage, and I would like to thank them a lot,” Aayan said.
“I have been working hard to achieve this for the past six months. It’s every child’s dream to play for your country, and score a crucial knock for your team in a crucial game.
“My dad has been training me from when I was five years old, and it’s his dream that I represent my country and play well whenever I get chance.
“He has trained me in batting a lot and he focuses on my cricket a lot. He is strict at times which helps me always to perform good.
“He has said me never to give up in any situation when you’re playing for your country. [Against West Indies] I got hit on my hand but still kept playing, so he has helped me a lot. He always takes me to practice whenever he gets time. He spends hours with me at training.”
Aayan’s batting feats against the hosts arrived in spite of the fact he is regarded as a left-arm spinner first and foremost.
Until this point in the tournament, he had been batting deep in the tail, but was promoted as UAE dealt with a number of absences due to Covid and food poisoning.
“I have been batting lower down the order but was patient and waiting for a chance to bat up the order and score some runs for my country,” he said.
“Two days before West Indies game our head coach Mudassar-sir [Nazar] and assistant coach Najib [Amar] said that I’ll be playing at six against West Indies.
“They gave me enough time to prepare mentally. I was ready to bat up the order, and Alhamdullilah I proved myself.
“I was happy that I was able to score some crucial runs for my country and lead them to a victory against a Test nation. It’s great feeling for me scoring 93.”
Aayan hopes the win, which ranks among the finest ever by any UAE side, is being well-received back at home.
“It’s a big achievement for us as an Associate nation beating a Test nation by almost 100 runs so the celebrations were wild,” he said.
“We were very happy with how the match went and looking forward to the finals which is big game for us. Winning the plate would be a very big achievement for us because everyone back in our home country will be proud of us.”