Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 5 December 2020

Ahmed Raza: 'I’ve never played a UAE game without calling my mother'

UAE captain's ritual stands after 16 years in international cricket

A 16-year career in international cricket has taken Ahmed Raza to diverse points of the globe.

He has played T20s against Virat Kohli and Shahid Afridi in Dhaka. He has captained his country in one-day internationals in Muscat. He has been recruited to T20 franchise cricket in Canada. And, he says, the most rewarding game he ever played in was on a school playing field in Namibia.

No matter where he has ended up, though, the UAE captain never forgets one vital ritual.

“I’ve never played a single UAE game without calling my mother before the match,” Raza said.

“She always says to me, ‘may God be with you’, and that she’ll be praying until I call her back with good news.”

Mother Shamim understands neither English, nor cricket, yet she always tunes in when the youngest of her three sons does interviews on TV.

Raza says he owes much to his family. His eldest brother Asim was a talented cricketer, too, while he considers his sister Samia his biggest supporter, even now she has a young family of her own.

And it figures that he ended up besotted by cricket, given the influence of his father, Syed Zahid Kazmi.

Any time off from running his plumbing business in Sharjah was devoted to cricket.

Son Ahmed says the TV channel in their house, near the UAE’s oldest cricket stadium, was always set on the cricket, and they rarely missed live games, either.

“There used to be a lot of car washes right next to Sharjah Stadium,” Raza, 31, said.

“Every Friday morning, dad would take his car there to be washed, and we would cross the road to see if there was any cricket on.

“He would take me to all the games. At Sharjah Stadium, you are so close to the action that you feel part of it. At that age, I loved that atmosphere.

“I still remember, whenever we were at home at there was cricket on the TV, dad would never change the channel.

“The cricket was on, so we all had to watch it. Subconsciously through that, I grew my love for the game.”

Growing up in the 1990s, there was an obvious hero for the young Pakistani national: Wasim Akram.

Raza started off trying to imitate the great left-arm swing bowler.

Midway through his teens, though, he figured it wasn’t for him, after all.

“At under 15, I got my first setback, when my friend was selected and I wasn’t,” Raza said.

“I was devastated. My older brother [Ali] was playing hockey at school at the time.

"He said, ‘Why don’t you leave cricket and come and play hockey instead?’

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - October 14, 2019: The UAE's captain Ahmed Raza during the ICC Mens T20 World cup qualifier warm up game between the UAE and Scotland. Monday the 14th of October 2019. International Cricket Stadium, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
UAE captain Ahmed Raza during the ICC Mens T20 World cup qualifier warm up game against Scotland in October. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“I said OK, and played hockey for two or three months. But hockey wasn’t for me, and I went back to cricket and became a left-arm spinner.”

Looking back, it was a savvy decision to switch to the slow lane.

Within three years, Raza was involved with the senior UAE team.

Now, two decades later, he has a career economy rate in T20 international cricket that is bettered by only seven other bowlers, led by gilded names like Daniel Vettori, Rashid Khan and Harbhajan Singh.

It is quite the feat, given that he only turned professional less than two years ago.

Even though, he acknowledges, cricket always took preference in his thinking above his various day jobs.

When the centrally contracted professional cricketers were sweating on their employment futures as the UAE diced with losing one-day international status at the World Cricket League in Namibia in 2018, Raza felt exactly the same.

UAE eventually made it through that tournament, beating Nepal in the final,. They then secured their ODI future – and so valuable finance for the game here – at the subsequent World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe.

“At the time, I was still working for Nakheel, so I had a solid job to fall back on,” Raza said.

“But not even for one second did I think about that.

"All I thought about was what would happen if cricket was over for us, if we didn’t retain our ODI status.

“What Khurram Khan gave us in 2014, why can’t we give it to the next generation now? You have that responsibility.

Prepared

“As a cricketer, I have never been challenged so much. That is what makes you a cricketer: when you are pushed into a corner, how do you come out from it?

“To come out of it the way we did, that really sticks with me.”

After a storied couple of years for the game here, Raza is now serving his second stint as the national team captain.

He says he is better prepared than he was for the job first time round, and cites fellow Associate captains Kyle Coetzer, of Scotland, and Pieter Seelaar, of the Netherlands, as being an influence on the way he leads.

“Seelaar leads a very diverse team,” Raza said.

“I look at how he goes about his business, as a home grown player, and see how his teammates respect him a lot as a leader.

“That is one thing I want from my team, too. I want it to grow, and I want people who come into the team to trust me.

“If they trust and respect me, they will go an extra yard for me.”

Updated: March 21, 2020 12:18 PM

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