UAE captain Ahmed Raza oversees 15-year-old Aayan Khan's rise to the next level

Young left-arm spinner impresses for Fujairah in the Emirates D20 tournament

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - December 07, 2020: Cricket. Fujairah's Aayan Afzal Khan takes the wicket of Dubai's Ronak Panoly in the game between Dubai and Fujairah in the Emirates D20. Monday, December 7th, 2020 in Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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When the UAE captain Ahmed Raza was assigned to lead Fujairah in the Dream 11 Emirates D20 this month, he had some concerns.

Mainly, they centred on the fact he knew little about his new teammates, aside from his former schoolmate and long-term national team colleague Rohan Mustafa.

When he then found out one of his bowling options was to be a 15-year-old spinner who looked even younger than that, and was half his size, too, he might have feared the next few weeks were going to be a struggle.

Now, though, after two matches playing alongside schoolboy left-armer Aayan Khan, he has some different thoughts entirely.

Essentially, he wishes he had been that good when he was that age.

“I wasn’t anything like close to [being as good] as what he is,” Raza said of his young colleague.

“There are similarities between us, actually, I have noticed from when I have spoken to him. But I was obviously not even close to that level when I was 15.

“He is a smart kid. I was going to give him the new ball today, and I asked him before the game if he would be OK with that.

“Honestly, I didn’t know a lot about him, and had never seen him play a game, so it was about getting to know him yesterday and learning about his game.

“When I asked him if he wanted to bowl with the new ball, he was very confident, and said he always bowls with it.

"I said ‘OK, here you go then,’ and he delivered.”

Raza was a high achiever at a young age himself, debuting in the UAE senior men’s side in 2006 when he was just a few months past his 17th birthday.

But his praise for Aayan was not false modesty. The diminutive teenager took 2-23 to set the platform for Fujairah’s win over Dubai on the second day of the T20 competition.

His two wickets each came the same way, via stumpings by another teenager, the 17-year-old wicketkeeper Hamdan Tahir.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - December 07, 2020: Cricket. Fujairah skipper Ahmed Raza try to run out a Dubai's Omer Farooq in the game between Dubai and Fujairah in the Emirates D20. Monday, December 7th, 2020 in Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Fujairah skipper Ahmed Raza tries to run out a Dubai's Omer Farooq in their Emirates D20 match. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Aayan was born in Goa, but has lived in the UAE since he was two.

He started playing cricket aged four at the prolific Desert Cubs Cricket Academy, and captains his school age group side at Our Own English High School in Sharjah

"I have played a lot of men's tournaments in Ajman already, so I knew [teammates Mohammed] Wasim-sir, Ahmed bhai and Rohan bhai," Aayan said.

“It is a good experience for me. My ambition is to become a professional cricketer and I am trying my best to do that, and hopefully play for either India or UAE.”

Aayan is not the only young left-arm spinner to have shone already in the D20.

Former UAE U19 captain Aryan Lakra took five wickets on the opening day, while Rahul Bhatia, 22, bowled a maiden as he went for just 17 in four overs for Dubai against Fujairah.

All of which means there is a production line of players pushing to take Raza’s place in the UAE line up.

Typically, he was outstanding himself, as he took 1-12 from four overs in the four-wicket win, and he says he welcomes the competition for places in the national team.

“That is good because you want people who push you even harder,” Raza said.

“It is really good to see so many spinners doing well, especially on a pitch which mostly favours the fast bowlers.”

Mustafa was named player of the match, as he navigated the run chase for Fujairah with a canny half-century at the Dubai International Stadium.