When Aryansh Sharma was preparing to leave home ahead of his T20 international debut on Thursday, he might have been minded to pack his autograph book alongside his bat, pads and wicketkeeping gloves.
The opposition were, after all, packed with the players he has grown up watching in the Indian Premier League.
That included Tim Southee, one of his idols from his favourite team, the Kolkata Knight Riders.
Aryansh was born in Ghaziabad near Delhi but grew up supporting KKR. He loved Shah Rukh Khan, the Bollywood star who owns the Kolkata franchise, when he was small so plumped for them.
Southee, New Zealand’s captain, showed why he has been so well regarded in the IPL as he took five wickets to quell the challenge of UAE in the opening T20I in Dubai.
Aryansh, though, was far from overawed by the illustrious opposition he was up against. The 18-year-old opener, who will return to studies at Manipal Academy of Higher Education in Dubai when term starts next month, carried the fight with a sparkling half century.
It included exquisite strokeplay against Southee, three fours in a row off Kyle Jamieson, and earned a pat on the back from multiple-IPL winning spinner Mitchell Santner by the end.
“I like this team,” Aryansh said of facing New Zealand. “I have heard that, amongst all the Test nation sides, this is the team who all support you.
“Tim Southee played for KKR, my favourite franchise, so he is my favourite player in that team. [But] when we are playing against each other, it is about playing for my team, playing for my country.
“When I am in the game, I’m not thinking that I am his fan. Right now, he is just a player and I am another player. It is about the competition when we are in the game.”
A fine bowling performance left the home team requiring 156 to pull off a shock against the 2021 T20 World Cup runners up.
Many might have feared their chances were over just one ball into the chase when Southee trapped Muhammad Waseem in front for a golden duck.
Even Waseem’s opening partner Aryansh admitted he feared the worst.
“Waseem-bhai is the best batsman for UAE, No 6 in the ICC rankings, the one guy who we love when he scores for us,” Aryansh said.
“It gives us a big boost. When he got out, I got nervous because our opener, star and captain was out. But when I played my first ball I actually middled it quite well and felt, ‘Today is my day, I can do it for the team.’”
Such is the newness of the UAE squad for the three-match series against the Black Caps, Aryansh was one of four debutants in the side.
He acknowledged that he has played so little T20 cricket at all that he had to ask Mudassar Nazar, the UAE’s interim coach, how to go about it just before heading out to bat.
“This was my first T20 and I asked my coach before the game, ‘What happens if I play two or three dot balls?’” Aryansh said.
“He said, ‘It is your game, you just have to play how you [naturally] play. It is not slogging, it is just how you technically bat.’
“That was what was going on in my head. I knew I had missed out on two or three balls, I had played out some dots, but if I could get the ball into the gaps I would be able to get boundaries. That is what happened.”
The hosts were in with a chance of an upset until Aryansh drilled a catch to Chad Bowes at extra cover off Jimmy Neesham. In the end they fell 19 runs short.
“I felt bad,” he said. “I knew if I had stayed we had a chance. My intention was to start hitting out after the 15th over – and I was out on the 14.6th ball.
“That was really sad for me, but I have to learn from these things. As they say, you never stop learning. Even if you are very experienced, or inexperienced, it never stops.”