Readjusting to civilian life was always going to be tricky for Zahoor Khan. He had, after all, spent the previous 50 days living the ultimate dream.
For the best part of two months, the UAE fast bowler had been a cog in the wheel of the world’s pre-eminent cricket team.
His living quarters had been in the lap of luxury at the St Regis on Saadiyat Island.
He had spent his days wowing Shane Bond, Zaheer Khan and Jasprit Bumrah with the mystery of his slower-ball bouncer, while bowling to Rohit Sharma et al at nets.
At night, he would whip all comers at pool in the grand team room. The world stars of Mumbai Indians might not have known much about Zahoor’s cricket credentials before he was summoned to help out as a net bowler. But they know now that he is a pool shark.
On the night Mumbai won their fifth IPL title in eight seasons to stake their claim to be regarded as the best T20 side ever, he had stayed back at the team hotel in Abu Dhabi.
When the conquering heroes returned, he was up at 3am for the after party, which lasted till 6am.
Not long after, he was up, checking out, and saying a teary goodbye to some new friends for life.
It speaks of an extraordinary passion for the game that, by 9pm that night, he was back out on the field playing a domestic match in Ajman.
In opposition were a number of his UAE national team colleagues. And, as popular as Zahoor is, they were never likely to let him get ahead of himself after his weeks spent living the high life.
Whatever tricks he might have picked up bowling to Quinton de Kock counted for nought as Rohan Mustafa scooped him for a huge six into the generators at the bottom of the field at Ajman Eden Gardens.
The umpires signalled six to a pair of scorers who were sharing a shisha pipe, and entering the score into a mobile phone. By the end of it, Zahoor had gone for 45 from his four overs. Welcome back, mate.
IPL2020: Mumbai Indians win again
Still, though, it was impossible to wipe the smile from his face.
“I learned so much,” Zahoor said, while adjusting the white Mumbai Indians training baseball cap on his head.
“I feel like all I’ve ever learnt has been because of the past 50 days. I was dreaming so much about meeting these stars, and my dream came true.”
He was in Pakistan visiting family when Robin Singh, the UAE coach who is also on the coaching staff of Mumbai, told him to return asap as there was a chance he might get called up.
He flew back, quarantined at home first, then again at the team hotel. Once he had cleared the requisite amount of Covid tests, he went to meet the team.
“When I went into the team room, I was sitting in Rohit Sharma’s place,” Zahoor said.
“Of course, I didn’t know anyone, but Rohit came over to me and sat down and said: ‘Hey, paaji [brother], how are you? From now on, this is your team. Make yourself comfortable.’
“Everybody showed me appreciation. The bowling coaches, Shane Bond and Zaheer Khan, and my coach Robin Singh, they were so helpful.
“They liked my bowling, especially the slower one. Shane Bond was asking how I do it. Most international bowlers bowl it like an off-cutter, but my technique is a little different. They asked how I do it. It is to do with my grip.”
Zahoor first buddied up with fellow members of the training squad Rasikh Salam and Ajay Sonu, but the resident of the room next door to his was one of the gregarious stars of the first team, Hardik Pandya.
He bonded with him over games of pool. Zahoor is the brother of a billiards champion from Pakistan, and has got game himself. He says he won some respect from his illustrious colleagues across the baize.
“Hardik Pandya came and said, ‘Come on, let’s go and play pool’,” Zahoor said. “We played with Rasikh Salam and Krunal Pandya, and they said, ‘You are a professional – why are you playing cricket?’ Before cricket, I used to only play billiards.
“Trent Boult, Hardik Pandya, every day we would play together. I was the champion of the Mumbai Indians players. I won every game.
“Sometimes I would go easy on Hardik in case he got frustrated and didn’t want to play with me anymore.
“Trent Boult was second best. We played best of five. I won the first two, then let him win two, and won the last one.”
Parting with the side in the hours after the title was won was hard, he says, but he is confident he has memories for life.
“Even now, I’m still thinking about it,” he said, as the clock ticked towards 11.30pm in Ajman.
“When I was checking out, Rasikh and Sonu were crying, and I will miss them because they are good friends.