A debut series against the West Indies, potentially followed by a tour to Zimbabwe on which World Cup qualification depends, does not exactly represent an easy one off the mark for Lovepreet Singh.
The 20-year-old batter has been named in the UAE squad for the first time, and the assignments ahead could scarcely be more testing.
Three one-day internationals against the West Indies in Sharjah, starting on Sunday, as a prelude to the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe. And yet, rather than feeling daunted, the new recruit is counting his blessings.
“I am lucky to be playing my first series against such a big team,” Lovepreet said of the prospect of starting out in international cricket against the West Indies.
“If you can perform against big players, that is how we can make our name. We all want to play against Test nations.”
It stands to reason the youngster is just happy to be here, given the journey that has brought him to this point.
Having been born in Jalandhar in India, he first arrived in UAE aged three when his father came to work in Fujairah.
The family live in Al Dhaid, the oasis town in the Central Region which does have a grass cricket ground of its own, but is a long way from the major centres for the sport in Ajman, Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Lovepreet’s first steps in the game came via informal tape-ball matches in the street in Dhaid. He says that a future in cricket seemed remote back then.
“I’m not even lying – when I was young I was only a fielder,” he said.
“They would put me in and told me all I could do was field. When I started playing, I was not naturally that good. It took a lot of time for me, and I made a lot of changes in my technique.
“Starting out in tape-ball cricket, even if you are only a fielder, when you bat you just slog. Slowly, I made changes.”
He became obsessed by the sport and persuaded his father, Satnam, to let him join an academy. Initially, that meant a 45-minute trip to Sharjah.
Now it is a three-hour round trip to Goltay Cricket Academy, near the end of the runway of Dubai International Airport, a journey he makes most days.
“Cricket is something everyone grows up with in Indian families,” Lovepreet said.
“I grew up watching the game and at the age of 13 I really forced my dad to put me in an academy. Watching greats like Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni, you just want to play.
“I told him I wanted to pursue cricket, but transport was a really big issue because we lived in Dhaid, and dad had his business.
“But dad put up with me. He said, ‘OK, we will do it – but you have to pay it off. You have to work hard in your cricket.’ So this is all because of my dad.”
Lovepreet, who is set to become the first Sikh to play full international cricket for the UAE, has a memorable name – translating as “Lovelove” – and is also an eye-catching presence on the field. Often he wears a beanie hat above his 'patka', no matter the temperature.
Despite that, he has struggled to catch the attention of the national selectors in the recent past, while a number of his age-group peers have advanced seamlessly to the full national team.
“It is hard when your friends are being called up after U19s,” he said.
“Corona came, then I was sidelined, and there is a lot of talent in UAE. I never blamed anybody. It was all about me, and working out how I could come back better.
“I always look at the positives. I asked Shahzad [Altaf, his academy coach] how I could improve. We worked on my technique, then everything started clicking.”
He was the second highest run-scorer in a domestic 50-over competition in Ajman earlier this month, and impressed after being called into the national team’s training camp – hence his elevation to the squad.
He says finding out that he had been selected felt like a dream – literally, given he was sleeping at the time.
“My friend called and I said, ‘Please don’t lie. I’m in a very deep sleep here and have a match this evening’,” he said.
“I had only just joined the camp and thought it would take some time. I told my friend I was going to hang up and check for myself.
“When I found out it was real, the first person I called was my dad. This is our combined effort. I called my mum, then my sister, my relatives and my friends.
“Then, of course, Shahzad-sir to thank him.”
Lovepreet says he owes a debt of gratitude to Altaf for the concessions he has made to coach him.
“We really watch our expenses, and he knew that,” Lovepreet said.
“He helped me through that time. He said, ‘Just come and play cricket, there are no fees for you. You just have to work hard and make your family proud.’
“That was very important from me. In a middle [working] class family, you have to control your expenses. We were not on the wealthy side, but he said to come here and train.”
Altaf, who played for UAE at the 1996 World Cup as a seam bowler, said the best payback has been Lovepreet’s call up to the UAE side.
“Lovepreet is a very, very hardworking boy, and has been since I first saw him as a 16-year-old,” Altaf said.
“He has been playing here since then. We took him in our team and even when he didn’t perform he worked even harder.
“Now he has his chance in the UAE team and I am very happy for him. Our mission is always to help boys to play cricket who don’t have so many resources.
“They can come here and use our facilities without paying. Our door is open for everyone.”