The Covid-enforced dearth of international cricket in 2021 was keenly felt by all of UAE’s leading players, but none more so than CP Rizwan.
The Kerala-born batsman must have thought he had finally cracked international cricket when he scored an uplifting century in a one-day international against Ireland a year ago.
Until then point, he had been on the fringes of the side – sometimes in the XI, sometimes not, and scarcely ever convincing.
Then, having wiled away the first coronavirus lockdown by having throw-downs from his wife in their apartment in Sharjah, he finally had his moment, with a brilliant ton. Against a Test-playing nation, too.
It led to one of UAE cricket’s finest ever victories and then … nothing. The national team have not played a one-day international series since, and have only had four matches of competitive cricket besides.
Rizwan is philosophical about having his – and his team’s – development interrupted by circumstances beyond anyone’s control. They are about to embark on a twice-stalled series of matches against Oman in the World Cup League Two.
The three-match series is part of the qualifying process for the next 50-over World Cup, and is promptly followed by a tournament offering two places for the T20 version later this year.
“When you have a good series against a Test nation you want to take that confidence and win more matches for UAE,” Rizwan said.
“Unfortunately, it has not been the case. We have been deprived of matches. It is one year since we have played any ODI matches after that.
“That was the innings which gave me confidence to think I can get big scores for the UAE and help the team in their progress. I want to help the team qualify for the World Cup.
“It is my dream to score match-winning hundreds for the UAE in the World Cup. Hopefully we are in the process of achieving that.”
Rizwan’s feat against Ireland was celebrated far more in his birth state of Kerala than it was in his adopted country.
In his home town of Tellicherry, billboards were erected with his picture, in celebration of the first ODI century by a Keralite. No matter that it came in the grey of UAE rather than the blue of India.
Rizwan himself was in high demand. He was invited to inaugurate new cricket facilities, and even to cut the ribbon on a new wardrobe showroom.
“We have a rich history for cricket in Kerala,” Rizwan said. “We have produced a lot of Test and international cricketers, but that was the first time any Keralite had got an international hundred.
“I only found out afterwards. A statistician from Kerala messaged me to tell me I was the first Keralite to score an ODI hundred. That was how I got to know about it.
“It was really nice for me to get a lot of recognition from all of the state. It was really heartwarming. People started to recognise me. It is nice to know that when you do your work properly, these things follow.”
The fact he is celebrated so avidly in Kerala is not solely to do with local pride. According to Biju George, an IPL fielding coach who was instrumental in turning a young Rizwan from a leg-spin bowler into a top-order batsman, people appreciate his character, too.
“I knew that he would be good enough to get into the UAE side,” said George, who coached Rizwan at Kerala Under-19 and U23 level.
“Now he has scored a century at international level, and that can’t be taken away from him.
“There are some players who go to social media and blow themselves up. They have their own fan clubs and groupies.
“Rizwan is an entirely different character. He is very humble. He shies away from the limelight, and he is one of the most dedicated and kind human beings I have come across.”
UAE tour of Oman
Cricket World Cup League Two
Saturday, 5 February, 1st ODI
Sunday, 6 February, 2nd ODI
Tuesday, 8 February, 3rd ODI
Ahmed Raza (captain), Chirag Suri, Muhammad Waseem, CP Rizwaan, Vriitya Aravind, Mohammed Usman, Rohan Mustafa, Kashif Daud, Zahoor Khan, Akif Raja, Karthik Meiyappan, Junaid Siddique, Basil Hameed, Zawar Farid
T20I quadrangular series
Friday, 11 February, v Ireland
Saturday, 12 February, v Nepal
Monday, 13 February, v Oman
T20 World Cup Qualifier
Friday, 18 February, v Ireland
Saturday, 19 February, v Germany
Monday, 21 February, v Bahrain
Tuesday, 22 February, semi-final
Thursday, 24 February, final
Ahmed Raza (captain), Chirag Suri, Muhammad Waseem, Alishan Sharafu, Vriitya Aravind, Mohammed Usman, Rohan Mustafa, Kashif Daud, Zahoor Khan, Akif Raja, Karthik Meiyappan, Junaid Siddique, Basil Hameed, Zawar Farid