Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 1 December 2020

Abdullah Shafiq rises quickly in Pakistan cricket as father watches with bated breath in Dubai

Shafiq Sr is a coach at Gems Modern Academy while uncle Arshad Ali represented UAE

Most parents would try to book the week off work if there was a chance of their child debuting in international cricket for their country.

If 20-year-old batsman Abdullah Shafiq does get a first cap for Pakistan against Zimbabwe in their limited-overs series, starting on Friday, his father will not even be in the same country.

Shafiq Ahmed will not be going near a TV set, either. If he has to run a training session in his job as the cricket coach at Gems Modern Academy in Dubai while his son is batting in an international match 2,000kms away, then all the better.

Anything to quell the nerves.

“I cannot watch,” Shafiq Ahmed said. “I don’t know how parents can watch their children play. I can’t be happy watching him play.

“I’m nervous for his performance, and for my own health.

"Even when my brother Arshad [Ali, the former UAE all-rounder] was playing, I could not watch him play.

“I’m happy to watch the highlights after, see if he needs to improve on anything, and we can talk about it.

“Honestly, maybe I can watch some of it, if I know he’s in, but I can’t watch a regular long innings. If other batsmen are playing, I don’t have a problem.”

To say Shafiq Ahmed is given to fretting is an understatement.

 Abdullah Shafiq’s action shots from the recently concluded National T20 Cup
Abdullah Shafiq during the National T20 Cup. Courtesy PCB

His son Abdullah has enjoyed an astonishing rise in cricket since being a second-team player last season, to becoming a star at Pakistan’s National T20 Cup earlier this month, and now, a call up to the full Pakistan national team.

All of which has piled on the stress for his father, watching on from afar in the UAE. He is concerned his boy’s hasty advance in cricket will have an adverse effect on his academic studies.

The call up to the Pakistan side is great – obviously. But, still, maybe a few more years establishing himself in top-flight domestic cricket might have been more advisable. So goes Shafiq Sr’s thinking.

“I want him to stay and enjoy playing cricket for the next 10 or 15 years," he said.

“Whether that involves representing his country, that is in the hands of God, but I just want him to enjoy playing top-level cricket.

“Last year, he was in a grade two team. This year, God has given him a place [in the Pakistan squad]. Let’s see how it works out.”

Shafiq Sr lived in Dubai for 29 years, after first arriving to play as a professional cricketer.

He has enjoyed great success as a cricket coach in Dubai, bringing through an array of talent at Gems Modern Academy since he was appointed their coach in 2005.

I want him to stay and enjoy playing cricket for the next 10 or 15 years

Shafiq Sr

His involvement in his son’s development, as well as that of his other son and daughter, has been limited to the time school holidays – one month in winter, and two in summer – have permitted him to get home to Sialkot.

“I still remember seeing him holding the bat for the first time,” he said.

“I checked with my wife who gave the bat to Abdullah, and asked if he was playing regularly with someone.

“She said, no, that she had just bought the bat three or four days before, and it was just totally natural the way he held the bat and played drives.

“He looked like someone who had been playing for one or two years already.”

If Abdullah looked like a natural back then, he continues to do so now, too.

He has played just one first-class match so far. In his debut innings for Central Punjab back in December, he scored a century – and outshone Pakistan internationals Salman Butt, Ahmed Shahzad, Umar Akmal and Kamran Akmal in the process.

Then came the scintillating display in the T20 competition, which included another debut hundred, after he came in to face a hat-trick ball in the first over of a run-chase.

Arshad Ali plays a shot against Canada during the one-day international at the Maple Leaf Cricket club in King City, Ontario, Canada. Chris Young for The National
Arshad Ali plays a shot against Canada during the one-day international at the Maple Leaf Cricket club in King City, Ontario, Canada in 2003. Chris Young for The National

At least uncle Arshad tuned in to watch.

“I was watching it on Facebook and I called Shafiq to tell him Abdullah was playing,” said Arshad, who was one of the UAE’s most outstanding players in the 2000s.

“He already knew he had gone from Sialkot to Multan to participate in this tournament, but he thought he wouldn’t get a match because there were big stars in his team, and he is just a young boy.

“Then the match was going on, and I saw he was batting with Kamran Akmal.

"He got to 30, 40, 50, and I said, ‘My gosh, Shafiq, look at this batting’.

“But Shafiq is the sort of person who won’t always watch the match.

"If Abdullah is playing, he cannot see the game. He would prefer to watch the highlights once he know what has happened.”

Arshad is delighted at his nephew’s call up, and is proud for his brother, who is nine years his senior.

“Shafiq knows cricket,” Arshad said.

“He said, ‘Arshad, this is T20 – sometimes you click, sometimes you don’t, and if he doesn’t, maybe they will leave him out.

“But for Abdullah to get Pakistan colours is a great achievement. It is a big thing in life. Especially in countries like Pakistan and India, where they have a huge quantity of people, all who love one team.

“It is not like England, or Australia, where they also have football or rugby. In Pakistan, everybody follows cricket.”

Updated: October 29, 2020 08:24 AM

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