Mohammed Farooq achieves long-held dream with UAE debut at ACC Premier Cup

Leg-spinner proud to have finally earned national team cap after years of trying

Mohammed Farooq took a wicket on his UAE debut in the ACC Premier Cup win over Kuwait in Oman. Subas Humagain for The National
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Given that Oman Cricket Academy Oval 2 is the ultimate batsman’s paradise, Mohammed Farooq might have been forgiven for ruing his luck when he was picked to debut there.

After years of trying, the 31-year-old leg spinner was finally handed his UAE cap for the first time on Friday when he was picked to play against Kuwait in the ACC Premier Cup.

It meant he had the privilege of bowling his leg breaks on one of the flattest wickets in the world, while defending short boundaries, with a rapid outfield.

To emphasise the point, a day later the national team posted their highest ever score in T20 internationals, as they amassed a whopping 236 for six against Bahrain. Of the UAE’s seven highest scores ever in the format, six have come at the venue.

And yet Farooq was never likely to baulk at the challenge. His journey to get here has been such a circuitous one, and shows he thrives on adversity.

He initially showed promise for the sport in his native Pakistan as a wicketkeeper-batter. He played for Mohmand, his district in the tribal areas of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, at Under 19 and Grade 2 level.

He also represented Peshawar University for four years, as well as playing for Higher Education Commission – the Pakistan universities team – in first-class cricket.

At one point he was tasked with giving throw downs to his colleague, the Pakistan star Iftikhar Ahmed, but he asked his mate if he would mind him trying something a bit different. It was a moment of revelation.

“One day we were going to tour Abbottabad and I was giving practice to Iftikhar,” Farooq said. “I told him instead of throw downs I’d bowl leg spin to give him that kind of practice.

“He said, OK. Then when I started bowling it worked well. He said, ‘Now you can start your journey as a leg-spinner.’

“From that day on I was focused on leg spin. But it is a difficult art. It has taken me eight or nine years to master it and there is still loads of room for improvement. I am still working on it. That is the journey I am on with the UAE.”

UAE defeat Kuwait in ACC Premier Cup opener

Farooq first moved to the UAE from Pakistan in 2017 to take up a job as a data entry assistant. He took a break from the workplace to focus on cricket before becoming a facilities supervisor for Gems Education at various schools in Dubai.

“When I had duty hours if I had any free time I would do my training,” he said. “I didn’t have an opportunity to bowl but at that time I was playing for Gems Education.

“On weekends I would have a shift for 11 or 12 hours so couldn’t play but when I had the chance I would do fitness training.”

All the while he was pursuing higher honours in cricket, and earned recognition of sorts when he was picked up by Team Abu Dhabi for the T10 league.

If you work hard and have belief in yourself, everyone will get their chance
UAE bowler Mohammed Farooq

Now working for Smart Cube Real Estate and playing for the staff cricket team, he has finally broken into the national team after years on the fringes.

For the 10-team tournament in Muscat, which has the prize of a place at next year’s Asia Cup for the winners, he was preferred to the other leg-spin options, Karthik Meiyappan and Zuhaib Zubair.

He is a decade older than each of those young talents, and he might have feared his time had passed given their emergence.

“If you work hard and have belief in yourself, everyone will get their chance,” Farooq said. “You have to wait and be patient, work hard, and Inshallah you will get your chance. If anyone has potential, self-belief and work hard, their chance will come.”

When his chance did finally come, Farooq betrayed the odd sign of nerves. He bowled two wides early in his spell against Kuwait, but – given the high-scoring nature of the ground – he has held his own so far.

In his two appearances to date, he has figures of one for 33 against Kuwait then two for 24 against Bahrain.

“These are very tough conditions for bowling and it is my debut series so I am facing some very hard challenges,” he said. “But back in UAE in our domestic structure we find these sorts of wickets too. It is good for me that I have the experience of bowling on pitches like this, as well as in franchise cricket. It has helped me a lot.”

Whatever happens next, he will always have a UAE cap. He says he was well aware of the prestige it confers, even before it was first presented to him by captain Muhammad Waseem.

“He told me it is a big privilege to play for a national team,” Farooq said. “It is something I have been dreaming of for the past 10 years, now finally I have achieved my cap so it was a dream come true situation.

“I have a WhatsApp group with my two brothers. I sent them a message first and also one to my fiancée.

“They were all happy for me. My fiancée is well educated on the game, she knows the rules and everything, but isn’t quite as into it as the rest of us.

“Everyone was happy, telling me my dream had come true and that it was a proud moment for me.”

Updated: April 14, 2024, 8:38 AM