Mahika Gaur’s extraordinary rise from junior cricket in Dubai to opening the bowling for England is not only serving as an inspiration for female cricketers in the UAE.
Kai Smith, who was born and brought up in Dubai and represented the UAE at two Under 19 World Cups, also now plays county cricket in the UK.
Having been part of Warwickshire’s academy for two years, this summer he signed a two-year professional deal to keep him at the county until 2025.
The wicketkeeper batter has opted to chase his cricket dream rather than attend university, and he has a packed schedule as a result.
He is back in the UAE to play for Chennai Braves in the Abu Dhabi T10. The tournament starts at the Zayed Cricket Stadium on Tuesday, which is Smith’s 19th birthday.
He will return to the capital in March when Warwickshire’s first team undertake a pre-season tour. In between, he will head to South Africa, where his parents are from, to play club cricket.
His own progress in the game has been impressive enough, but he acknowledged he has closely followed the ascent of Gaur, the former UAE left-arm fast bowler.
Having been spotted by Lancashire at a pop-up coaching clinic at Expo 2020 in Dubai, she graduated last summer to the full England side, and shone after making her debut against Sri Lanka.
Smith and Gaur played together in the UAE when they were 12 years old, and recently caught up at the Rajasthan Royals Academy at the Sevens, Dubai when both were back in the city.
“We were very close and it is amazing to see where she is now,” Smith said.
“We are all really proud of her, and it is a massive inspiration because that is where you want to play. You want to play on those big stages and international cricket for your country in front of big crowds.
“It was great catching up with her the other day and finding out how it has been for her, and what she was thinking and feeling.
“It is definitely something I am chasing, and I am working at it bit by bit. Hopefully I will get there one day.”
Smith made his Warwickshire debut in the One-Day Cup two years ago when he was still just 16.
He has made a habit of early starts. He had his first taste of international level men’s cricket when he was just 13 in the UAE, when he played for the ECB Blues, the UAE’s development side, against the touring United States side.
He said his first taste of county cricket was a different test altogether, though.
“It was challenging early on because I had never played as high a level as that,” Smith said.
“It was overwhelming but a great experience. Having played two of those tournaments so far, looking back at the first season I was just trying to find my feet.
“The senior guys in the team helped me a lot in terms of making me feel at ease and help me play my own game.
“Then coming into the second season, I felt a bit more at home and confident in my abilities. Now I am really trusting the process and having fun while doing it as well.”
Smith’s selection for Chennai Braves means he is back in harness with his former coach in the UAE, who is in charge of the T10 side.
Dougie Brown gave Smith that debut for ECB Blues when he was 13, and was integral in his move to Warwickshire, where he had previously had a lengthy career as a player and coach.
“We think he has a really high ceiling regarding his cricket, and wanted to give him a chance to showcase that talent on this stage,” Brown said.
“He has only been here for three or four days but has already fitted in well. It is great to see him out there playing, he has kept wicket beautifully and from what we have seen of him from a batting perspective, it lends itself to this format as well.”