Muniruddin Salahuddin's bond with cricket in Abu Dhabi grows stronger after 33 years
Pakistani veteran of UAE domestic circuit hopes to play the game as long as possible
Muniruddin Salahuddin has come a long way in his cricket journey in the UAE which began when he first arrived in Abu Dhabi on May 28, 1988, to work as a salesman at his uncle’s grocery store.
Munir, as he is affectionately known in the cricket circles in the city, is completing 33 years of playing the game he loves and a sport that has provided him a livelihood.
The memories of the day his journey began are still crystal clear. Less than six months after arriving from his native Pakistan, Munir made an immediate impact during his debut game in Abu Dhabi.
He opened the batting and the first ball he faced was against Shahzad Khan, one of the star players at that time. The first ball was dispatched over the extra cover area for six. His team Abu Dhabi Duty Free won that game with Munir scoring 76.
After that match-wining knock, Munir was offered employment at GAMCO (now Etihad Engineering) and continues to play for them.
He has now taken a mentor's role at Etihad Engineering for the last four years. He has assembled a young squad to play in domestic competitions.
Munir first came into contact with the cricket fraternity in Abu Dhabi four months after his arrival when the Government MAO (Muhammadan Anglo Oriental) College from Lahore toured the UAE.
“I came to know MAO College was playing a Select Abu Dhabi XI through a local English daily. I went there to meet the touring team because I knew them from when I played for Punjab University in the Rawalpindi district,” Munir told The National.
“Most of them were playing first-class cricket. The Abu Dhabi cricketers came to know me through these players and they invited me to play in the domestic tournaments.”
Over the years, Munir has scored many centuries but the 137 not out to guide GAMCO to a semi-final win over Al Futtaim in the NMC Trophy 50 over-a-side tournament in 1997 remains his finest moment.
They lost the final to Union National Bank who had six UAE internationals from the 1996 World Cup squad in that side.
His exploits with the bat do not come as a surprise as Munir, now 53, was nicknamed Richard (after Sir Viv Richards) back in Rawalpindi because he could imitate the West Indian great perfectly.
“I was pretty good at imitating a lot of international cricketers including Graham Dilley, Gladstone Small, Malcolm Marshall, Abdul Qadir, Javed Miandad and Arjuna Ranatunga. Aravinda de Silva remains my favourite player, though.”
It was not all smooth sailing, however. Munir had to serve a two and-a-half year suspension from his job after accidentally ramming a forklift into a helicopter.
During the period he was unemployed, Munir played full-time cricket for various teams. He received Dh200 for a game.
“I played mostly for Gamco but a lot of other teams, including in Dubai, contracted me for tournaments until I was re-employed at Gamco in 1992,” Munir recalled.
“During the time of my unemployment I had the good fortune of playing for Team Abu Dhabi in the Bukhatir League for three seasons from 1989.”
That incident also had an impact on his future in the game. Munir was called for UAE trials but couldn’t make it because the opportunity came just after he was re-employed by GAMCO.
“I was just reinstated after the forklift incident and I didn’t want to take any risk of losing my job again by taking time off from work to attend UAE trials,” he said.
“I have played against all those who represented the UAE in the 1996 World Cup and they remain some of the best moments."
I was pretty good at imitating a lot of international cricketers
The passion for cricket was evident from a young age. Munir is the youngest in a family of four girls and three boys from Rawalpindi. He had natural cricketing skills and, more importantly, the mental strength to play against older and stronger kids at Muslim High School in Islamabad.
“I use to play cricket during the break and one day my principal saw me and called me to his office and asked me why I wasn’t in the school team’s training programme,” he said.
“I came from a lower middle class family and explained to him that I didn’t have the proper kit and shoes to play cricket. He told me to join training from the next day and I did.
“I was the smallest kid in that group and I was asked to bat first against older and bigger boys.
“I faced those fast bowlers on a cement pitch and started to hit everyone all over the place. I was included in the playing XI against another side from the same school.”
Munir hit a century to win the game for his team. His teammates were all praise but when he returned home, he was punished by his father for playing cricket. The following day he was disciplined by the class teacher for not focusing on studies.
“My parents and older siblings wanted me to become a medical doctor or an engineer,” he said.
Munir was offered a sports scholarship at the Government Gordon College in Rawalpindi but he left before his graduation when he received the visa to work at his uncle’s grocery store in Abu Dhabi.
“I applied to Gordon College even as my family members laughed at me,” he said.
“My father told me I had only 328 marks when this college required 700. I applied through the sports quota and I was selected as one of the three scholarship from more than 300 applicants. Everyone at home was surprised.
“That’s the time my family members allowed me to do whatever I wanted to do. I decided to take the easiest subjects, which was arts. I played lot of matches for Gordon College and scored lots of runs, but I had to leave when I received the visa from the UAE.
“I had the potential to pursue my cricket at a higher level but I never had the support. I have no regrets though. I’m glad that I could continue my cricket in the UAE and still enjoy playing with the youngsters around me, and as long as I can.”
Published: May 25, 2021 12:28 PM