ILT20: UAE’s Rohan Mustafa relishing pyrotechnic pairing with England star Alex Hales

Desert Vipers’ opening duo have made a dynamic start to new competition

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Judging by the way they go about batting together, Alex Hales and Rohan Mustafa do not need to chat much. “Just smash it”, “nice one,” and “go again” is probably about the extent of it.

If the harem-scarem, blink-and-you-miss-it Desert Vipers opening duo were to sit down for any length of time, though, they might have vaguely similar war stories to trade. In specific, ones about World Cup heartbreak.

Hales was stood down from the England side who were about to embark on winning the 50-over World Cup for the first time in 2019.

Less famously, Mustafa was omitted from the UAE team for their trip to the T20 version last year. Had he made the cut, he would have become the first UAE player to feature in three global events.

Now Hales can at least tell his own redemption story. After a three-year exile, he returned to England colours to play a key role in them winning the T20 World Cup in Australia in November.

Mustafa, by contrast, is still recovering from the hurt of missing out. In November, he said the pain of it “will remain in my heart forever”.

Clearly, Mustafa is a man on a mission. Along with young whizz-kid Aayan Khan, he was the national team’s outstanding player on their first engagement after the World Cup, a lost series in Nepal.

Desert Vipers opening batsman Rohan Mustafa, right, in action against Abu Dhabi Knight Riders. Chris Whiteoak / The National

His start to life as Desert Vipers player in the DP World International League T20 has been eye-catching, too. He has been restored to the top of the batting order – a role he has not served for some years now for UAE – and he has delivered on what has been asked him.

Most notably in their win over Abu Dhabi Knight Riders on Wednesday night, when he got the innings off to a flier with 23 from 11 balls.

“When I signed for them I said I wanted an opportunity, and that I wanted to bowl at good times,” Mustafa said.

“They said I would get to bowl and that they had confidence in me. We went to the nets, and I started hitting.

“They said, ‘Do you open? Or do you want to bat No 7?’ I said open because at No 7 I would not get so many opportunities.

“Then they said what I had to do was go and hit the ball. 'From the first ball or the second, we just want you to hit the ball.'

“They told me, ‘If you score 20-25 runs in nine or 10 balls, that is a big thing for us.’ In the practice match, I hit a six first ball. They told me I just need to go like that and I will open in the ILT20.”

Desert Vipers' Alex Hales bats against Abu Dhabi Knight Riders at the Dubai International Stadium. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Mustafa is thrilled to be batting alongside a player he regards as one of the best in the game.

“Opening with Alex Hales is a big opportunity,” Mustafa, 34, said.

“We are playing against some of the best players in the world. If we do well, we can take confidence from that, whoever it is from the national team.

“Alex Hales is one of the world’s best batsmen. Whenever I hit a good shot, he would tell me I had, and give me confidence.

“I hit [a four off Lahiru Kumara] and he said, ‘Amazing shot, you used the pace really well.’ He said to just keep doing well, don’t lose your shape, and whenever it is in my area, to go for it.”

Mustafa says whatever he does with the bat is unlikely to herald a return to the top of the order for UAE, given the riches the national team possess in that position.

Muhammad Waseem, for example, has been in sparkling touch for MI Emirates, which is something Mustafa says he has been celebrating on the national team’s WhatsApp group.

“Whenever I see a UAE player doing well I feel very happy,” he said.

“I have been with UAE a long, long time. I always say they should trust us. Sanchit [Sharma] got man of the match [in his opening match for Gulf Giants]. Zahoor [Khan] did very well [for MI Emirates].

“We are contributing however we can. Once you get a start like that, you get confidence. I always tell the younger players, the only thing different between us and other players is confidence and experience.

“If you do well in these leagues, someone will see us and they will call us for their leagues.”

Updated: January 19, 2023, 7:41 AM