'Carpe diem': UAE Under 19 captain Aryan Lakra determined to make World Cup qualification count

All-rounder, who gets tattoo inscribed on arm after 'seizing our chance' in Malaysia, aims for Asia Cup Qualifier next

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - April 22, 2019: Aryan Lakra, UAE's Under 19 team captain, after they qualified for the World Cup. Monday the 22nd of April 2019. Sports City, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Aryan Lakra, the new, bright young thing of UAE cricket, does not need to look far for good advice.

The ICC Academy, where the 17-year-old all-rounder spends most of his time outside of school, is not short of coaches.

Then there is the staff of the UAE Under 19 side, which lately has even included Graeme Cremer, who played 144 international matches for Zimbabwe and was the country's captain until last year.

The most constant voice Lakra hears, though, is that of his father Anup.

It was he who first introduced him to cricket, as a young child on the tennis courts near their home in Discovery Gardens, soon after the family had moved to Dubai from India.

And it was he who was back feeding the bowling machine, two days after his son had returned from a triumphant tour to Malaysia with the UAE.

The age-group side made history by becoming the first from this country to qualify for an U19 World Cup. The UAE had been represented at the 2014 version of the event, but, as hosts, were automatic qualifiers.

Lakra could have done little more personally to bring that success about. As captain of the side, he scored 120 runs at 40, and was the leading wicket-taker in the tournament with 13 at 9.23. It was no surprise when he was named player of the tournament.

He does not look as though the success has gone to his head, judged by the way he defers to his father’s advice at practice.

When Lakra Sr says go and warm up, his son does so. When he says drink water, he drinks. When he suggests not playing at balls wide of his off stump, Lakra Jr reins in his attacking instincts.

And yet, there is a clue to the fact Aryan has an independent streak. After all, the ink is yet to dry on a new tattoo he had inscribed on his left forearm to celebrate last week’s success.

UAE capatain Aryan Lakra receives the Player of the Series award from tournament director Niteesha Kothari at the Under 19 World Cup Qualifier in Malaysia. Courtesy ICC

“I told him not to, but he said if they qualified, and he was player of the tournament, he was going to,” Anup said.

Teenagers, hey?

The inscription says “Carpe diem”. “It is only small, and the tattooist said the after-effects, the shedding of the extra ink, would be done within a week, so it should be fine before the start of the [Asia Cup Qualifier, in Dubai on Friday],” Lakra said.

“I liked the tattoo and the meaning, because it was a week when we seized our chance, and we seized the tournament. I felt it was most relevant.”

Lakra and his teammates will have little time to bask in the glow of their success in Kuala Lumpur.

No point getting giddy about a trip to South Africa next year when they are moving straight into the qualifying tournament for the Under 19 Asia Cup, starting at the Dubai International Stadium on Friday.

Lakra does, though, appreciate what they have already achieved.

“When we won the last game [against Oman] I still felt calm and composed myself, but we could see within the team how much it meant to everyone,” Lakra said.

“To win five games in seven or eight days, everyone gave their best. It was clear how much everyone wanted to win and qualify for the World Cup.”

According to Andy Russell, the national development manager who was in charge of the U19 side in Malaysia, Lakra’s individual returns might have been even better in the qualifier.

UAE captain Aryan Lakra in batting action against Oman during their Under 19 World Cup Qualifier match in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday. Courtesy ICC

“He has scored a massive amount of runs in domestic cricket this year,” Russell said.

“All of our top seven or eight batsmen have scored a mountain of runs in domestic cricket, so we had a really strong batting line up.

“Aryan was getting opportunities at the top of the order, and he took it – but if you ask him, he probably thinks he should have scored a few more runs.”

The success of the age-group side is a major boon for the game here, especially given the indifferent season the senior national team have endured.

Lakra is one of a number of players who could make the step up to the men’s team, according to Qasim Ali, the head of cricket development at the ICC Academy.

“I think one day he will go on to become the captain of UAE, and we have to provide the platform for him to establish his skills and learn the trade,” Qasim said.

“He has definitely shown that he can play cricket at a representative level. The challenge for him now is that the men’s game has completely different challenges.

“Technically he is definitely strong enough to be playing international cricket. Fitness and fielding are a couple of areas he might need to improve on if he is to be playing the game at the national level.

“In terms of spin-bowling and batting, I definitely think he can add value to the current crop of players who are within the national team, as well as the current crop of emerging players that are coming through.”

UAE players celebrates a wicket. courtesy: ICC


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Four other talented youngsters with bright futures

Historically, the path from age-group cricket to the senior UAE national team has been a potted one. Talented teenage players often travel abroad for further education, and can be lost to the system thereafter.

For example, of the 14-man UAE squad that played four one-day internationals in Zimbabwe earlier this month, only two – Chirag Suri and Rohan Mustafa – had previously represented the country at age-group level.

Among the highly promising batch of young players coming through the system at present, there are a number who it can be hoped become mainstays at senior level.

These four would feature on that list. Happily for UAE cricket, there are a number of other bright prospects besides.

Yodhin Punja became the youngest player to represent UAE in first-class and one-day international cricket. Satish Kumar for The National

Yodhin Punja

Age: 20

Role: Pace-bowler

Punja became the youngest player to represent UAE in both first-class and one-day international cricket when he debuted in a series against Hong Kong in 2015 in Dubai, aged just 16. The young fast bowler was still at school in Abu Dhabi back then. He once took the day off school to play a practice match against Pakistan’s national team, and proceeded to send down a string of maiden overs. He subsequently took up an offer at a school in the UK, and is now part of the Cardiff University first-team set up, but remains in the UAE national team’s long-term plans.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 05 AUGUST 2018. Jonathan Figy, a left hand opening batsman, has been called up for the UAE U19 after his first season in England. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Amith Pasella. Section: Business.

Jonathan Figy

Age: 17

Role: Left-handed batsman

The Abu Dhabi-born schoolboy was a prolific run-scorer in domestic age-group cricket, before earning a scholarship to attend Winchester College in the UK in 2017. His appetite for runs remained insatiable there, as he scored 1,027 runs – including four centuries – in his first season in English schools cricket. He clearly remains in the thoughts of the UAE selectors, having already trained with the senior national team.

Karthik Meiyappan bowls. courtesy: ICC

Karthik Meiyappan

Age: 18

Role: Leg-spinner

Aryan Lakra’s understudy as captain of the triumphant UAE U19 side in Malaysia, and he is no less high regarded. Qasim Ali, his coach at the ICC Academy, says he is already regarded as “one of the best leg-spinners in the UAE at present”. Like Lakra, India-born Meiyappan was part of the UAE development XI that played a 50-over series against the senior United States side in Dubai last month.

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - OCTOBER 05: Ansh Tandon of UAE catches the ball during the 2018 Under-19 Cricket World Cup qualification Division 2 semi final match between Malaysia and United Arab Emirates at the Kinrara Academy Cricket Oval on October 5, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)

Ansh Tandon

Age: 17

Role: Left-handed batsman

It was a sign of UAE’s dominance in the World Cup Qualifier in Malaysia that Tandon only made it to the batting crease three times. His run yields have not been overly sizeable in UAE colours just lately. However, it is notable that his two highest scores in recent times – both half centuries – have come against Nepal, who are generally the toughest opposition UAE face in regular age-group cricket.