Aryan Lakra provided a reminder of his potential in the opening game of the new Dream 11 Emirates D20 tournament.
The 18-year-old all-rounder took 5-16 as ECB Blues comfortably beat Abu Dhabi in the first exchanges of the 20-over competition at the Dubai International Stadium.
The tournament has been set up to give a platform for emerging talent to show their worth, as Robin Singh, the UAE coach, seeks to expand the player pool available for national team selection.
It achieved that aim at the very first opportunity. The ECB Blues are a development team that includes a number of players who featured in the UAE side at the Under-19 World Cup in South Africa in February.
Many of them thrived. Lakra, who captained the age-group team, led the way with his five-wicket haul.
As was so often the case in age-group cricket, he was joined in a fine bowling partnership by Karthik Meiyappan, who took 1-17 from his four overs of leg-spin.
Their former U19 colleagues Vriitya Aravind, Alishan Sharafu and Ansh Tandon all contributed to the 36-run win, too.
“A lot of the credit goes to the management and the people around us,” Lakra said.
“The senior players have created a very good environment in the men’s side, and we don’t feel like we are juniors.
“Everyone treats us equally, and they are willing to help us out. Robin-sir and Najeeb-sir [Najeeb Amar, the UAE assistant coach] have really helped us, and I think we are reaping the rewards.”
Under normal conditions, Lakra might have hoped to have debuted for the senior team by now.
He has seen Meiyappan, Aravind, Sharafu, and another player from the U19 World Cup side, Jonathan Figy, make the step up to the full side so far.
However, the pandemic has meant opportunities have been scarce. The national team have been without cricket since winning the ACC Western Region T20 in Oman in February.
It is possible they may resume international duty next month. Lakra, for his part, is pleased for his friends, and is content to wait for his chance to follow them into the senior side.
“I think they all deserved it, whoever has made their men’s debut so far,” Lakra said.
“I will just wait for my chance. If I do, I know I will get picked, then hopefully I can reap the rewards at international level.
“I feel as though going into the seniors at Associate level is not so much of a gap in skills, it is more about the mental set up, and how strong you are mentally.
“If you want to do well, it depends on how strong you are mentally.”
Singh, the former India all-rounder, has been impressed by what he has seen from the young talent in the UAE since he was instilled as coach in February.
“When I arrived, people said there were not enough players on the scene. I think that was an illusion,” Singh said.
“After that, we have managed to pull out a lot more players than we thought existed in UAE.
“Going forward with this D20 tournament, I think it will not only enhance the profile of the place, but will also give us a better chance to see the longevity of players, their fitness, and give us a platform to pick a lot more players in the future.
“There are a lot of young players, who I think will surprise people going forward.
“We want to ensure this team going forward in the UAE will be on the big stage soon.”