Ahmed Raza grateful to live out dream as UAE women's cricket coach targets bright future

Former men's captain gave up comfortable career to pursue passion of cricket coaching and is dedicated to the growth of the women's game

Former UAE captain Ahmed Raza was appointed head coach of the women's national team in March 2023. Pawan Singh / The National
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Despite leaving behind a cushy position, Ahmed Raza has no regrets whatsoever in taking a major pay cut to follow his passion.

The former UAE captain left his job at Nakheel, a leading real estate developer, in 2018 to play full time cricket and when he retired from the game last year, took up a coaching job with the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB).

Born to Pakistani parents in Sharjah, he has the unique feat of becoming the first UAE-born player, captain and coach, as he leads the national team in the current Women’s T20 World Cup Qualifier in Abu Dhabi.

After two defeats, the UAE came good with a brilliant 10-wicket triumph over the Netherlands on Monday to keep their hopes alive for a semi-final spot in the 10-team competition.

Ireland top Group B on four points with the Netherlands, UAE, Zimbabwe and Vanuatu tied on two points apiece with a game each to play.

UAE will have to defeat newcomers Vanuatu on Friday. They need to win big and hope the results of the other games fall in their favour to finish in the top two in the group to earn a semi-final spot. Should they achieve that, the UAE would be one win away from a place at the T20 World Cup in September as both finalists will qualify for the tournament in Bangladesh.

“Honestly, it’s a blessing where I'm standing here right now and coaching the UAE women’s national team,” Raza told The National of his coaching role with the ECB.

“It was only a dream to be coach of a national team and it's a great transition for me as a former player.

“I’m so grateful to the ECB for providing this opportunity and to stay involved in UAE cricket after the number of years I've played for the UAE and to still be able to serve the country in a different capacity.”

Raza, 35, made his international debut at age 17 in the EurAsia Cricket Series in 2006 against an India A side that included the likes of Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja.

He made his ICC tournament debut the following year against Scotland in the four-day Intercontinental Cup and went on to represent UAE in 108 games across the ODI and T20I formats.

He’s also the UAE's most successful captain in the shortest format, with the team winning 18 of its 27 T20Is, and booked their passage to the 2022 T20 World Cup under his leadership.

“I was fortunate to lead the men’s team to a World Cup finals and to achieve that feat as a coach of the national women’s team would be my ultimate dream,” the former left-arm spinner said.

Raza has no regrets about taking the tough decision to leave a “comfortable” job at Nakheel to stay in cricket, a move that later led to the offer of a multi-functional coaching role within the ECB. In addition to his primary duties as the UAE women's coach, Raza is assistant to men's coach Lalchand Rajput and is involved with UAE age-group cricket.

I was fortunate to lead the men’s team to a World Cup finals and to achieve that feat as a coach of the national women’s team would be my ultimate dream
Ahmed Raza, UAE Women's cricket coach

“It probably was the hardest decision at that point because I had a comfortable job with a pretty decent salary in looking after the Nakheel properties,” he said. “At that point, people started questioning me about why I was leaving a comfortable job, especially my late father.

“I had to explain to everyone close to me that if I don't follow my dream now, I won't have any regrets when I'm older by thinking what my life could have been if I didn’t take this decision.

“So, I took that leap of faith and took a major pay cut and started doing what I always felt I have been destined to do. When the ECB offered me the job, I had no doubts about it at all. I was just very excited about where I can take this team forward.”

The women’s game in the UAE is still developing and doesn’t have a domestic league at the moment. The national team compete in the ECB’s U16 National Academy League, while the UAE's cricket governing body recently formed a women’s age group competition.

“The women’s game is progressing with more and more girls participating in cricket,” Raza said. “I would love to see the cricket councils of each emirate getting involved in the promotion of women’s cricket because that just gives players an identity when they represent their state teams.

“That’s a big step-up for the budding cricketers to play with different teammates, build camaraderie, and obviously it raises their game as well.

“This is something which we've been working on with the development manager Andy Russell, and Chaya Mughal (the former UAE women’s captain), who has moved into the development side of the sport after her retirement from the game.

“We have a lot of under-15 players and the future really looks good. Now it’s how we nourish that talent. Hopefully, we can introduce an inter-emirate tournament like in the established men’s and men’s age group formats. I believe it’s a matter of time to see cricket flourish among the girls.”

Updated: April 30, 2024, 3:18 PM