Adithya Shetty's future looking bright despite missing out on a piece of history

The teen bowler was set to make UAE debut against Ireland before Covid shortened the series

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When Covid disrupted UAE’s one-day international series against Ireland in Abu Dhabi last month, it had the indirect effect of depriving Adithya Shetty a slice of history.

Had the series followed its initial schedule, and comprised four matches rather than the revised two, the schoolboy leg-spinner would almost certainly have debuted.

Had he done so, he would have become the youngest player ever to feature in international cricket for the UAE, breaking Yodhin Punja’s record of 16 years and 206 days.

As it was, the series was truncated when four UAE players returned positive Covid results, and Shetty will now be forced to wait.

It is unclear when the UAE will play next. What does seem certain, though, as the 16-year-old whizkid will remain part of their plans for the foreseeable future. Robin Singh, the UAE coach, has hinted as much.

“We have incorporated a lot of young cricketers in the set up, but I have made it a point that they have to perform,” Singh said recently. “They can’t be coming into the side just because they are young.

“We have a 16-year old [Shetty] who has been in our national side, and he almost played against Ireland. I’m pretty sure these guys will play in the near future if they keep performing.”

Shetty’s performance in taking three wickets in a practice match against Ireland won him plenty of admirers among the senior players in the national team. The India-born teen is grateful for the way he was accepted into the fold.

“They say sport has no age, and the coach of the UAE team [Singh] keeps telling us this,” Shetty said.

“If you are with the men’s team, you will be treated like a men’s player, irrespective of how old you are or how young you are.

“I was welcomed nicely by the senior players. At first I didn’t speak to them a lot, I spent more time with the younger players, but as I spent more time with them everyone was really welcoming.

“It was nice to be with a group of guys who care about you and are happy when you do well as well.”

Since his first taste of the senior national team set up, Shetty has thrived in domestic cricket, too.

He has had a string of fine performances in the Bukhatir League, following on from some excellence in ICC Academy’s title win in the UAE Academies league.

His ascent in the game has been sharp since he was one of the first inductees into the ICC Academy’s scholarship programme back in 2017.

Qasim Ali, who has overseen Shetty’s development since he hand-picked him for the scholarship programme four years ago, predicted a “bright future” for a formerly “podgy kid”.

“He has a consistency in his bowling that is impressive for a young lad,” Qasim, the academy’s head coach, said.

“The fact he is determined to work on his skills outside of coaching hours shows he has the drive to succeed. He is quite relentless as a character.

“He is also focused on his fitness, which is good as he was a podgy kid when he first started with us.

“The programme we put together with the scholarship enabled him to get fitter and stronger. We have given the opportunity to play on good grounds and train relentlessly.

“We have opened this area up for free training to all our scholars. Without that they wouldn’t get the opportunity to practice their skills, and that is what the scholarship programme is about.”

Shetty acknowledged his attitude to fitness has improved over the recent past – which is handy, given that what he first found most appealing about bowling leg-spin was the lacking of running required to do it.

“My school coach at [Delhi Private School, where he first learnt the game] changed me into a leg-spinner,” Shetty said.

“Like everyone, I was initially a batsman and fast bowler, but my school coach said pace bowling wasn’t for me as I was quite short at that time.

“I was happy with that as it meant there wasn’t a lot of running to do. You just walk in from two steps and then bowl.

“As time went on, I started bowling leg-spin, and as time went along it became something that was becoming a career for me.

“I have worked on my fitness. Everyone knows now in cricket you need to be fit to play.”