Immediately after UAE secured qualification for the T20 World Cup earlier this year, coach Robin Singh said he would be scouting out players that would be suited to the challenge of playing in Australia.
The conditions facing the national team in their preliminary round matches in Geelong will likely be vastly different to those they are used to back at home.
In all likelihood, it will be the opposite of the low-bouncing wickets they regular play on in Sharjah and Dubai, as well as in Muscat where they won the Qualifier tournament.
If the tourists did want some local expertise, they need not look far. After all, one of their own has been based in Victoria for years, and his league cricket often includes matches in Geelong.
Shorye Chopra represented UAE at the Under 19 World Cup in 2014, where he was a contemporary of the current senior national team opener Chirag Suri. He left Dubai shortly after to start a computer science degree in Melbourne, and test himself in Australian grade cricket.
“The reasons I left in 2014 were, firstly, because I had just finished high school,” Chopra said. “Tertiary education was what was at the top of my mind. But, secondly, I wanted to understand how good I was at cricket.
“Obviously, playing international cricket in UAE was good, but everyone talks so highly about the level of domestic cricket here in Australia.
“At that point in time, tertiary education in Dubai wasn’t the same standard it is now. With all things in perspective, Melbourne was the right spot for me in terms of cricket and the degree I wanted to study.”
Chopra’s outstanding contribution in UAE’s maiden U19 World Cup campaign was making 69 against a Sri Lanka side captained by Kusal Mendis – who will be up against the national team in Geelong this month. Sri Lanka are in the same first-round group as UAE, along with Netherlands and Namibia.
Having attained his bachelor’s in computer science, then subsequently a master’s, Chopra now works in Melbourne as a software engineering consultant. His spare time is devoted to playing for Kingston Hawthorn, a leading club side in Victoria.
He is 25 now, but has not given up his ambition of a return to international cricket one day. Back in 2019, he trained with the UAE team, under the guidance of former coach Dougie Brown and captain Ahmed Raza.
“It is quite flexible and there is a big focus on pursuing things outside work as well,” Chopra said. “Touch wood, I haven’t had many issues with pursuing both careers. [Representing UAE again one day] is something I would be very open to.
“It was a conscious decision to know that I had to settle down somewhere, but it is still something that I am keen on. We will see how things pan out.”
Chopra’s parents are no longer based in the UAE, having returned to India after 28 years in Dubai.
“Home for me in my heart is still Dubai, but Melbourne is very close to being called home now,” he said. “I have all the paperwork in place after eight or so years, so that is looking promising. We will see where everything lands up in a few years’ time.”
His time in grade cricket has seen him face Australian internationals like Glenn Maxwell and Aaron Finch. It has also given him an intrinsic grasp of the conditions the UAE side will be faced with in their fixtures against Sri Lanka, Namibia and Netherlands.
“The first major difference I found was the pace and bounce in the pitches,” Chopra said. “That was one of the things you need to get used to. There is also a lot of spin, although I would say spinners aren’t as impactful as they are on slightly drier wickets in Dubai.
“And the conditions themselves are drastically different to what they are in Dubai. The weather can change dramatically.
“The quality of the grounds is outstanding. I think the boys coming here will find it is an outstanding wicket at Kardinia Park in Geelong. It is flat, so hopefully they can score a few runs.”