Dubai teenager Hamad Arshad pursues UAE dream while aiming for county cricket experience

Off-spinner has performed consistently in Emirates Cricket Board’s Academies league

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A teenage spin-bowler from Dubai is aiming to become the first player to both represent UAE and play professional county cricket in England, after impressing in the domestic age-group game.

Hamad Arshad was the leading wicket taker for a second season running in the Emirates Cricket Board’s Academies league, which concluded last month.

The 18-year-old off-spinner is part of the wider training squad for the UAE under 19 side, as has plans to represent the country at national team level.

Having arrived in the UAE to study at Kings Al Barsha four years ago, he also has designs on playing elite cricket back in England, where he was born.

Because of the UK’s home office eligibility criteria, a route to any sort of competitive cricket in the country has often been beyond players from the UAE.

Rameez Shahzad played for Durham’s academy side, alongside the likes of Ben Stokes and Liam Plunkett, while a student in the northeast of the UK.

Others, such as Yodhin Punja, Jonathan Figy, and Hamad’s own Kings colleague Vriitya Aravind, have also been involved in the university system in the UK.

The fact Hamad was born and brought up in Essex, though, would qualify him to play county cricket, if selected.

“I came here four years ago on a cricket scholarship, and it gave me my main ambition to be the first UAE player to play county cricket back in the UK,” Arshad said.

“I knew I would get a lot of good training and exposure to elite athlete pathways.

“I had been a couple of times on tour, so I knew cricket was here in the UAE, but I did not know too much, of course.

“It was different coming here, but it has meant I have had more exposure to different types of cricket, having played regularly in Ajman and Sharjah as well.

“Playing regular club cricket in world-class facilities like these is not something I would have got in the UK.”

Arshad initially came to cricket when watching on from beyond the boundary when his father, Ash Mohammed – who is in charge of cricket at Kings Academy – was playing.

“My dad used to play on Saturdays, and I used to score his games,” Arshad said.

“I was the extra helper, and sometimes I got to field as well. When there were friendlies on Sundays, I could play with the seniors.

“The rule then was that when you were 12 you could play with the men, and straight away I was pushed into that.

“Every weekend I would play both days, and on Sundays I would play my junior game in the mornings, then the adult games after.”

The former link up between Kings and Ravichandran Ashwin meant Arshad has been able to pick the brains of the Indian master spinner in the past.

He has also had similar experiences with the likes of Pakistan greats Saeed Ajmal and Saqlain Mushtaq – footage of whom encouraged him to try out off-spin when he was young.

“To have them as my mentors now is an unreal opportunity,” said Arshad, who trained with Islamabad United as part of their emerging player programme ahead of the 2020 PSL.

“I was inspired by them at a young age, and now I’ve been able to interact with them and learn about my bowling with them as well.”

His father and coach says he was never concerned when he took his son out of the country cricket system – he had been a youth team player for Essex – in order to move to Dubai instead.

“I was always quite confident coming to Kings, as we had had the likes of Kevin Pietersen, James Foster and Ravichandran Ashwin [associated with the academy],” Mohammed said.

“Ashwin even mentored Hamad for a while. He has done some fantastic netting with Ashwin, which has really helped his batting. He gave him tips about drift with his bowling.

“He led the side really well this year [in the ECB Academies league]. We didn’t win it, but we topped the league, and honestly it didn’t really matter. What we wanted was to see these guys develop, and they have.

“Now they are ready to go and move up to another stage. We are going to try to do something similar next year with a different group of kids.”