Syed Haider: From aspiring footballer and Cristiano Ronaldo fan to UAE international cricketer

Opener wanted to be footballer before being coaxed into cricket by father and could be on plane to South Africa for U19 World Cup

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Between now and January, competition is likely to be fierce among UAE’s leading teenage cricketers for places on the plane to South Africa for the Under 19 World Cup.

Chances to play on the global stage come few and far between for players from this country.

For one of the young batsmen who played an integral role in getting them there, it will be the fulfilment of a dream. Although not precisely as he first envisaged it.

When Syed Haider was a small boy in Pakistan, he hoped to emulate Cristiano Ronaldo rather than Misbah-ul-Haq, and play football instead.

“I wanted to be a footballer, but my dad told me that no brown person plays football, and that I had to play cricket,” Haider said, with a laugh.

The fact that the UAE opener, who scored 57 in the final of the Asia Cup qualifying tournament in Dubai on Friday, references his dad is no surprise.

Taqi Shah is a ubiquitous – and loud – presence at UAE age-group matches. He records every match his son plays, which now numbers well over 400, and uploads them to his own YouTube channel.

He is a vocal supporter, too, with his voice echoing around the mostly-empty, 25,000-seater Dubai International Stadium during Friday’s final win against Kuwait.

Haider took his dad’s advice, and is glad he did – even if he does still play football as regularly as time allows.

“Now I play cricket, it was just that I used to watch football, and find it more fun than cricket,” Haider, 18, said. “A 90-minute game, it ends early, and obviously Cristiano Ronaldo was a very big name back then.

"I wanted to be like him. I do still play, here and there. I think it helps with stamina.”

Karachi-born but having lived in Sharjah since 2011, Haider is part of a UAE side that has won qualification to both the U19 World Cup and Asia Cup over the past few weeks.

He scored 57 in a relatively low scoring Western Region final that the UAE won by 90 runs, having earlier made 73 in a thrashing of Iran in pool play.

Now he and all of his colleagues can look forward to facing up against the likes of India and Pakistan in September, plus the rest of the world's leading sides next January.

And hopefully pick up a few scalps, too, according to Dom Telo, the side’s coach.

“It is always difficult for us going up against full member nations,” Telo said.

“We saw that in the last Asia Cup we went to, where we let ourselves down, and we have been working really hard to improve on those areas.

“In the past few months we have seen the guys have improved in those areas.

“It is always a challenge, but I don’t see why our guys, if we play really good cricket, can’t get a few upsets in the big tournaments we have done really well to qualify for.

“I believe we can knock over one or two big boys if we do what we do well, and have a bit of luck here and there.”


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The path ahead

The young cricketers of the UAE have plenty to look forward to in the coming months:

Under 19 Asia Cup:

The national team actually clinched their place at September’s Asia Cup in Sri Lanka as soon as they qualified for the age-group version of the World Cup.

However, they then went and won the Western Region tournament – which was planned as being the qualifier – just for good measure. Kuwait, the losing finalists, will join them in Sri Lanka.

World Cup Twenty20 Qualifier:

Give the crossover in coaching staff between the senior and U19 sides, the talents of the young players are well known to the powers-that-be.

With that in mind, it would be no surprise to see some pushing for selection for the national team, which had an indifferent season, when the World T20 Qualifier takes place on home soil in October and November.

U19 World Cup:

This cohort of players made domestic history by qualifying for the World Cup for the first time.

A UAE side have played in it before, but that was having automatically qualified as hosts in 2014.

The World Cup will take place in January and February 2020 in South Africa.