UAE great Ahmed Raza says he has no regrets as he looks to life after playing

Former captain retired on Friday to take up role of assistant coach of the national team

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Not for the first time in his life, Ahmed Raza said he was inspired by Shane Warne when it came to calling time on his playing career – which goes down as one of the best in the history of the game in the UAE.

The Australian spin legend, Raza recalled, had said it was best to field questions asking why you are retiring now, rather than being told it is time to go.

Age 34, the left-arm spinner could unquestionably still do a job, be it in international cricket, franchise, or the club game. Now, though, he says is the time to move on to the next challenge.

After all, Raza, who was first inspired to play the sport when his dad took him to watch games at Sharjah Stadium while his car was being washed, could scarcely have eked out more from his playing days.

When he debuted for UAE, against future superstars like Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja, in a low-key List A game in Abu Dhabi in 2006, Raza was still at school.

While Rohit and Jadeja would go on to become Indian Premier League zillionaires, Raza would maintain a day job for the majority of his playing career.

Ahmed Raza in action for UAE in 2013. Jaime Puebla / The National

He only went professional five years ago. Starting out as a pro sportsman age 29 left only a relatively short time to chase his dreams, and he was aware he had to prepare for life after playing.

He always hoped that would involve staying in cricket, and looked to coaching. While still captain of the senior men’s team, he was part of the coaching staff of the Under 19 side when they played at the World Cup in South Africa three years ago.

He says the offer to become the assistant coach of the national team was “timed perfectly,” and “made my decision [to retire] quite easy.” It also gave reason to pause and consider everything that has gone before.

“I feel like a lot of these years have gone in the blink of an eye,” Raza told The National.

“It feels like yesterday when I started playing. It has been an amazing journey and I have no regrets about anything.

“It is a bittersweet feeling as well, but when I think of UAE cricket I always try to think how I can make a difference to it.

“Now I feel like I can make a difference from this side of the game. I led the team the way I did. Now this job has come about, I feel as though I can continue making a difference.”

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - March 28, 2019: UAE's Ahmed Raza gathers the ball during the game between UAE and USA. Thursday the 28th of March 2019, The Sevens, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Raza’s greatest feat was righting a ship that was listing badly at the end of 2019. He was handed the captaincy of a side that had just seen three players suspended pending a corruption probe, on the eve of the 2019 T20 World Cup Qualifier.

Seven players have subsequently been banned from the sport because of the issue. Through it all, Raza helped rebuild the side, with an accent on youth that had hitherto been rare in UAE cricket.

The repair job was so successful that, the next time there was a chance to qualify for a T20 World Cup, Raza’s side routed all before them. The captain himself took five wickets in the win that clinched progress to Australia last year.

“The ambition of taking UAE to a World Cup was so high for me,” Raza said.

“When eventually that happened, there is nothing that can top that. It was the best feeling I had as a cricket player and the best feeling I had as a captain.”

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – Nov 18 , 2015 : Ahmed Raza of UAE playing during the cricket match between UAE vs Hong Kong at ICC Academy Oval at Dubai Sports City in Dubai. ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For Sports Stock. Story by Paul Radley. ID Number : 50851
 *** Local Caption ***  PS1811- UAE CRICKET03.jpg

Raza’s canny captaincy often overshadowed his bowling. As did the bowlers at the other end, he says. Not that that was an issue.

His focus was always on economy rather than wickets, such as when UAE played against the continent’s elite at the 2015 Asia Cup T20 in Bangladesh. Over the course of four successive matches against Oman, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan, Raza conceded just a single boundary.

“That Asia Cup was a memorable one, not just for how I did, but because if you want to summarise how I played my cricket for all these years, that was the highlight,” Raza said.

“I had the most economical figures going around at the time. I didn’t pick up many wickets, as I probably didn’t during the whole of my career.

“That was how I performed over the years. Even if I didn’t pick up wickets, I was economical and I took a lot of pride in doing that.

“If I wasn’t picking up wickets, I was containing so the guy at the other end could, and eventually it was a good partnership. I always saw it like that. It was never that I was greedy for wickets, I was always greedy to help in whatever possible way.”

UAE's Ahmed Raza directs the field in a game against Oman. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Doing what you can to help others shine seems a pretty decent mantra for a coach. It is one that works for Raza.

“From the other side of the rope, as long as I am helping people perform to the best of their potential, eventually it will help the team to do well,” he said.

“That is something I have thought about. I will be working with the head coach [Robin Singh] and following his lead, but I will also have my own identity in how I work with people and help people.

“All coaches have different ideas and ways and means of doing it. I hope mine is approachable, where people can come up to me and discuss how they feel. Not just about how they feel about their cricket, but about how they feel in general.

“I have been in this sport for a very long time, I have seen all the ups and downs. I don’t think there has been anyone who has gone through so many highs and so many lows.”

The new role will pitch Raza back into the same dressing room as the coach who demoted him from the captaincy, as well as the player – CP Rizwan – who took on the armband. But Raza says he bears no ill will.

CP Rizwan, centre, replaced Ahmed Raza, right, as UAE captain.  Photo: USA Cricket

“I think my relationship with everyone in the squad has been really good,” he said.

“It is a two-way street, and I can’t take all the credit for that. But I think being approachable is one of the strengths I had as a captain and a senior player.

“I didn’t have a senior-junior thing. I spoke to [long-serving all-rounder Rohan Mustafa] the same way I spoke to [young wicketkeeper Vriitya Aravind] when he started.

“It is all about getting the best out of them. With CP, not much will change. The conversations will be different because I will be seeing it from the sidelines.

“It is always very easy from the sidelines, but it is hard from the middle. I do understand that. I will try and help him as much as I can.

“He is a good listener and I hope we will continue to work together and produce results. If we do that, ultimately it will help UAE cricket.”

Updated: March 04, 2023, 5:05 AM