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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 3 March 2021

Nilansh Keswani is the skinny, bespectacled teenager taking UAE domestic cricket by storm

Keswani, 17, has shone with bat and ball so far in this season's Bukhatir League, and he only aims to get better

Given how lopsided matches involving Dubai Starlets have been so far in the country’s leading cricket competition, it might be easy to assume they are a team of men playing against boys.

The Dubai side have dominated the group phase of the Bukhatir League, the UAE’s oldest and most revered domestic tournament, so far.

On the opening day, they thrashed a Phoenix Medicines side that included seven players from the UAE squad that faced Ireland last month – bowling them out for a measly 56 in the process.

Next time out, they trounced Noble Future Land by an astonishing 436 runs.

And yet those doing the bullying are a team mostly made up of callow youngsters, whose outstanding player is a skinny, bespectacled 17-year-old spinner.

Nilansh Keswani’s extraordinary spell of 6-17 off 10 overs in the opening game included dismissing stars of the national team like Rohan Mustafa and Vriitya Aravind.

The left-arm spinner followed that up with 4-25 next time out, and also struck a hundred with the bat for good measure.

“Coming into the tournament, nobody expected us to top the group as we are all U19 kids, except for a couple of players,” Keswani said.

“Getting them out for a record low of 56 all out was really good. For me, getting three or four national team players out was a good achievement.

“I have played against Vriitya a lot before, and I had played against Rohan Mustafa and those guys in the D20 tournament.

“I felt they had got the better of me in the D20 tournament. Since this [Bukhatir League] is a 50-over tournament, I wasn’t so fussed by being hit.

“If I got hit for a few runs, but got their wickets, that would have been an achievement for me.”

The Dubai-born spinner has more reasons than most for his fierce drive to succeed.

His father died when he was a child, and his mother was recently made redundant.

He says he wants to excel in the sport to honour each of them.

“There is no income coming in, so getting performances in like this means a lot to me and to her,” Keswani said.

“My dad wanted me to become a cricketer. He never really played the game, but he loved to watch it.

“I didn’t start taking the game seriously until I was 14 or 15, which was when I started thinking about the game as a profession.

“Knowing how my family has struggled, I know that cricket is something I would love to do.

“Making the U19 team for the World Cup Qualifier is the short-term goal for me, and then the senior men’s side is the long term [goal].”

His recent excellence will not have gone unnoticed by a national team who have shown a new willingness to back young players.

And the captain of the side – a fellow left-armer - is a role model of his, too.

“One of my heroes in Ravindra Jadeja, and from the domestic circuit it is Ahmed Raza,” Keswani said.

“After the six-for [in the Bukhatir League] Ahmed messaged me and said, ‘This is good, but don’t let this performance get into your head. Keep performing, because the better your team does the more games you get to play in Bukhatir League, and it is one of the best tournaments on the circuit.’

“He told me to keep performing. For the past year he has been giving me valuable tips. I’ve focused on what he has been telling me to do, and now I am performing.”

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Keswani also captained his ICC Academy side to the title in the final of the Emirates Cricket Board’s Academies league.

Qasim Ali, the ICC Academy coach, says a player who has emerged from their scholarship programme is developing into a fine player.

“This year we have made him captain to help him understand the game better, and to improve and develop his leadership qualities,” Qasim said.

“In terms of his left-arm spin, he bowls similar to [Pakistan star] Imad Wasim in terms of the outcome, although his method is very different.

“We are trying to help him develop the skills to be more resourceful for when he plays for the UAE U19s, and the seniors when he grows up.

“His role model is Ahmed Raza, and he would hope to reach a point where he could bowl with him, or one-day replace him.

"He is a gutsy, defiant character, and he needs to channel that in the right way.”

Updated: February 24, 2021 10:02 AM

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