Ahmed Raza says he is focused on leading UAE to success against Ireland despite the recent death of his father, saying: “Whatever I may achieve, it will be for him.”
The national team return to action for the first time in nearly 11 months on Friday, when they play the first of four one-day internationals against Ireland in Abu Dhabi.
It will be an emotional return for Raza, the UAE captain. His father, Syed Zahid Kazmi, died two weeks ago after a two-year battle with cancer.
Raza and his UAE-based brother and sister, as well as his other brother in Qatar, travelled to Pakistan for the funeral on December 21. Their father had died while each of them was awaiting the processing of their Covid PCR tests.
Rather than being distracted by grieving, Raza says he will be motivated to honour his father’s memory with success on the field.
“I am taking it as an inspiration,” Raza said. “Whatever I am going to do now is going to be for him.
“For however long I play for UAE, everything I do, every win I get, will be for him.
“It gives me more motivation to do better. Whatever I may achieve in this series, or the coming series, it will all be for him.”
The UAE captain said his career in cricket stemmed from a love of the game instilled by his father, who had first moved to Sharjah in 1972 with his job as an electrical engineer.
“He used to take me to Sharjah Stadium all the time, even for domestic games like the Bukhatir League and Ramadan tournaments,” Raza said.
“When I told him there was a coaching clinic going on, and I wanted to enrol, he said yes, and paid those fees for a long time. He was very supportive of everything.
“When I played age-grade cricket, he used to drop me to the airport and, like any parent, he was tell me to do this, and not to do that.
“He told me I had to take care of my money, take care of my bag, and put some sort of cloth on my suitcase to remember that it was my bag.
“He was really happy. He used to keep my newspaper cuttings.
"Whenever there was a televised game, he would call every single relative of mine in Pakistan and tell them this was the time Ahmed would be playing, and that they had to tune in.”
The left-arm spinner said the first time his father told him he was proud of him was when he played his first televised game, in 2006, and, although compliments were sparing, he is confident he made him happy.
“I am what I am because of him,” Raza said. “It is a fact of life that most of the time our fathers don’t get the due credit they deserve. My father had his own business, but he had another job, too: to raise all of us.
“We are four siblings, and he raised all of us in Dubai. With fathers, we take it for granted that it is their duty, but sometimes we don’t see the struggles they go through.
“I see my brother and sister running after their kids, then imagine what it was like for my parents looking after us. It was two people, raising four kids, in another country.”
Robin Singh, the UAE coach, is confident his captain will be able to focus on leading the side.
“We sympathise a lot with Ahmed, but he is a very strong character and a good leader,” Singh said.
“He understands the responsibility. Of course, it is hard, the loss of a member of your family. We will support him in every way we can.
“He has made every effort to come back, because he wants to play in the series. I can only appreciate that. He is a really good leader, and I think he will do a really good job.”
UAE will be giving away six places in the world rankings to their visitors in the ODI series, and wins over sides from Test playing nations have been rare for the hosts in the past.
Ireland also beat world champions England in their last appearance. That was, though, five months ago.
The UAE’s players have been busier than most cricketers in recent months, with a steady programme of domestic cricket, and Raza is hopeful that will help them against the Irish.
“It doesn’t guarantee anything, but it might give us a slight edge,” Raza said.
“Rolling over Ireland, with them being a Test-playing nation, would be a great achievement. We know how big an opportunity this is.
“Looking at the world situation as it is right now, being the first Associate to play any international cricket, it is a great opportunity. We recognise that, and we want to make the most of it.”