'Amazing' Aayan Afzal Khan stars for UAE in convincing win against Nepal

Teenager, who celebrates his 17th birthday on Tuesday, takes 4-14 as national team seal 84-run victory in ODI series opener

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Having already featured in a T20 World Cup, it is inaccurate to say Aayan Afzal Khan was playing in front of the biggest crowd of his life so far.

What is certain, though, is the fact he will never have had such numbers singing him happy birthday before.

The Sharjah cricket prodigy became the UAE’s youngest one-day international cricketer in the first match of the series against Nepal in Kathmandu on Monday.

It was actually a day before his 17th birthday, but the typically impressive home crowd at Tribhuvan University were more than happy to help him celebrate prematurely.

And what a day he had to savour. An ODI debut, just over a month after he became the youngest player to play in a T20 World Cup.

A wicket with his first ball. A wicket with his third. Final figures of 4-14 from 10 overs, which included four maidens. And all contributing to an uplifting 84-run win for the UAE.

“They knew it was my birthday tomorrow, so they all started singing for me,” Aayan said. “I made my T20 debut recently, so I was not nervous even though it was my [one-day] debut. I just wanted to perform well.

“It is great to be in Nepal playing in front of all these fans. It was similar to Australia. It felt good.”

This was UAE’s first outing since their fitful display in the preliminary round of the T20 World Cup in Geelong last month.

It had the feel of the start of a new era. CP Rizwan took over the ODI captaincy from Ahmed Raza, just as he had in the 20-over format ahead of the World Cup. Alongside Aayan, new fast bowler Hazrat Bilal was given a debut, too.

There was one significant nod to the past, though. Rohan Mustafa was picked, despite being overlooked for unexplained reasons for the main event in Australia.

Nothing will erase the hurt he felt at missing that event. But the 34-year-old all-rounder seemed intent on making the most of what time is left to him in the international game, as he made 53.

He was zoning in on a statement century, but he clipped a catch to Aasif Sheikh off the bowling of his great mate Sompal Kami.

Although their own side struggled, having been set 264 to win and despite half centuries for Arjun Saud and Dipendra Singh Airee, the home fans still revelled in Mustafa’s excellence.

The UAE all-rounder has been a popular overseas player in Nepal franchise cricket down the years, and it was obvious how well-loved he was beyond the ropes.

The home faithful have found a new favourite, too, in the form of Aayan. From the moment he was stationed to his fielding position, right in front of the most vocal part of the crowd, he was cheered.

By the end, fans were passing their phones through the fence to have selfies with him.

“My mum said when I played at the World Cup that I should take pictures with all the international players, many of them,” Aayan said. “I said, ‘No, I won’t do that. Because Inshallah people will want to takes selfies with me soon'.”

Rizwan says the UAE are grateful to have such a sparkling prospect in their ranks.

“It was a really amazing performance – to get a wicket with his first ODI ball is itself amazing,” the UAE captain said.

“To go through an opposition like that, not just taking wickets but restricting runs as well, what else do you need as a captain?”

The two sides meet again in the second match of the three-match series on Wednesday.

Updated: November 14, 2022, 2:35 PM