When Junaid Siddique made his international debut last October, UAE cricket was at its lowest ebb, riven by a corruption crisis that is still yet to be resolved.
The 27-year-old fast-bowler has known his share of troubles, too. Winning his UAE cap was just the endorsement he had always wanted for his decision to go against his parents’ wishes and carry on striving to make it in cricket.
“They are very proud,” said Siddique, who has established himself as a pace-spearhead for the national team over the troubled past three months.
“It was my father’s dream for me to play for Pakistan. I have come to the UAE, but he is still proud. Everyone is proud of me. The past two or three years have been difficult for me and my family.”
Siddique first moved to UAE in 2014 knowing no one, but compelled to find work due to financial issues back at home in Pakistan. He settled, but later faced problems when a criminal case was brought against him for absconding from duty.
If his father had his way, he would have returned to the family home in Multan straight away, and finally given up cricket for good.
“For four years I have not been back to Pakistan,” Siddique said, ahead of the UAE’s Cricket World Cup League Two series against Oman and Namibia in Muscat.
“My father told me to come back, but I said no. Now I am here, I want to do my best in cricket. I felt that, Inshallah, very soon I could play cricket for UAE.
“In 2012, my father and mother asked me to leave cricket and go to work instead. I said, ‘No, this is my dream’. I was born for cricket. I have to play cricket, all the time. Now they are proud and happy for me.
“Inside me, I want to be the best bowler in the UAE, and bowl fast – very fast. I am trying my best.”
Despite being just over three months in to his international career, and with only three one-day international appearances to his name, Siddique is already seen as a senior bowler in the side.
That speaks of the youth of a team that is now peopled by university students and a schoolboy, in the absence of six senior players because of the ICC's corruption investigation.
“I have to be responsible,” Siddique said. “The skipper [Ahmed Raza] and coach [Dougie Brown] have told me I am the senior bowler, and that I have to think that way. I want to do my best for the team.”
Even though he played a good standard of cricket in Pakistan before he left, there was no guarantee Siddique would reach national team level in his adopted country.
He only started out in the game here at all when he asked some people if he could join their match in Zabeel Park in Dubai.
“When I first moved here, I didn’t know what cricket was played here,” he said. “I went to Zabeel Park, and I asked some guys if I could play cricket with them.
"They said, ‘Tomorrow is Friday, if you are free, come to Ajman to play cricket with us.’ That was how I started. Only one guy here knew me, and he organised my visa, then when I arrived I didn’t know anyone else. It was difficult for me.”
His fast bowling impressed, and he has become immersed in some of the most successful domestic teams in the country.
That led to the UAE call up for the T20 World Cup Qualifier, as well as a place in the Abu Dhabi T10 that followed.
“It boosted me,” he said of taking the wicket of Kieron Pollard during the T10. “I have come up from club cricket, so to take an international player’s wicket as good for me.”
Siddique and the new-look national team start their CWCL2 campaign against hosts Oman on Sunday.
Raza, the captain, believes their inexperience could be a blessing.
“We know there are going to be ups and downs," Raza said. "This side is still very young at international cricket. If you look at it, that is a big positive as well.
"Teams don’t know much about us now. They haven’t seen much of us. I think we can use this as our biggest advantage. The last time we played Oman, it was a completely different squad.
“We want to win four out of four, and that would put us in a great place in the table as well.”