Ex-UAE batter Alawi Shukri recalls 'special' memories as Asia Cup returns to Pakistan

Former UAE player looks back at 2008 edition of tournament when the national team, made up of part-timers, were confronted by Sri Lankan mystery spinner Ajantha Mendis

Former UAE batsman Alawi Shukri is now vice-chairman of Al Braik Investments. Photo: Alawi Shukri
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Due to the perpetually tense relations between them and India, the 2008 tournament was the only time in its 39-year history Pakistan has staged an entire Asia Cup.

Even this time around, they only have a part-share in a competition they have technically got the hosting rights for, with Sri Lanka staging the majority of matches.

Much has changed in the 15 years since the great and good of Asian cricket made their way to Lahore and Karachi for the continent’s biggest international tournament.

Not least, the status of UAE cricket. Their young side of professionals have not made it to Pakistan, beaten to qualification by Nepal.

Back in 2008, a UAE team of part-timer cricketers, and a squad including four UAE nationals, were soundly beaten by Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It still carries with it indelible memories for the touring side from the Emirates, though.

Now 33, Alawi Shukri is no longer involved in cricket in a formal capacity, his time being taken instead by his duties as vice-chairman of Al Braik Investments.

The advent of professional central contracts in 2015 always was unlikely to be enough to tether the Dubai-born batter to the sport.

Aged 18 back in 2008, he was already being measured up for a place in the family business when he was on his way to Pakistan for the Asia Cup.

He played one official one-day international on that tour, then never again. But he still prizes that day above almost everything else.

“I tell my wife this: I have two girls now and, after seeing them born, I would have to say the best time of my life was making my debut for UAE,” Shukri said.

“I have been lucky enough to travel the world, but you don’t forget the first time you put on the shirt of your national team.

“I can remember it clearly, particularly as we were playing against Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka was my team, so seeing those shirts of the Sri Lankan uniform was a feeling I will never forget.

“I will also never forget Pakistan. It was a very special place for me.”

There was a good reason Shukri felt such an affinity for his opponents on debut. As a child he had a Sri Lankan au pair.

One of his earliest memories is from when he had just turned six years old, and his family home was thrown open to all her Sri Lankan friends as they won the 1996 World Cup final – coincidentally, in Pakistan.

The trip to the Asia Cup meant much to his UAE team colleagues, such as the Pakistani expatriate Arshad Ali, who were in many ways heading home to play in it.

In a different way Shukri, too, felt moved by the occasion.

“It was a fairy tale for me,” Shukri said. “I grew up being raised by a Sri Lankan, who taught me the game – then debuted against them.

“I’m sure for guys like Arshad, it would have been a completely different feeling. Pakistan, Lahore, Qaddafi Stadium … it will always be a special place for me.

“The people were fantastic. Guys like Arshad made me feel very comfortable, as did Shadeep Silva and Vikrant Shetty. We gelled so well together.

“There was no difference between someone like Arshad being Pakistani and me being a UAE national. That is the beauty of UAE itself. It was very special to me.

“I am happy the Asia Cup is back in Pakistan. That time seems like it was ages ago.”

In their game against Sri Lanka, the UAE were obliterated by Ajantha Mendis, the mystery spinner who was tearing international cricket apart at that point in time.

That Asia Cup was his zenith. He took 17 wickets in five games at 8.52 apiece. His Sri Lankan spin colleague Muttiah Muralitharan was next best in the tournament wicket-taking charts, with 11.

His haul of 5-22 against the UAE was actually pretty average, when set against what he did in the final against India.

To help guide Sri Lanka to the title, he took 6-13, making greats like Virender Sehwag, Rohit Sharma and Yuvraj Singh look like novices in the process.

Shukri had to face Mendis when he came to the crease. He managed a run off his first ball, but lasted only two more thereafter.

He might have hoped for a little understanding from his opposition. He was good friends with Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, the Sri Lankan greats, and his father had been a generous benefactor for the former’s cancer charity.

But no dice.

“I couldn’t pick him,” Shukri said. “When I came out to bat, Nigel Fernandes was at the other end, a left-handed all-rounder.

“I asked him what was going on here and he said he had no idea. I thought, ‘That is not a great start.’

“At slip was Mahela, who knows me well, and Sanga was keeping. Obviously, they couldn’t say anything, but I think they were itching to.

“Mendis’ first ball was quite easy. A straight ball on a flat wicket. It felt good as I was able to punch it to mid-wicket for a single.

“On the second ball, I didn’t have a clue. Absolutely no idea. It bounced to slip. I couldn’t pick it. I didn’t know what he was doing.

“At that time, you didn’t have many bowlers like that. My stay was only short, just three balls. But, hey, I still have something to tell my kids.”

Updated: August 27, 2023, 5:56 AM