Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 1 December 2020

'Viral' cricket star Raees Ayan dreams of playing for UAE

Clip of pace bowler in Abu Dhabi net session has been seen nearly half a million times and he hopes it will give him the chance to shine

Raees Ayan meets the England fast-bowler James Anderson on the outfield at Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi . Courtesy Musheer Ahmed
Raees Ayan meets the England fast-bowler James Anderson on the outfield at Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi . Courtesy Musheer Ahmed

A young cricketer whose bowling went viral online says it remains his dream to play for UAE, even though he has moved to India after becoming disillusioned with the game here.

A brief clip of Raees Ayan bowling a bouncer in the nets in Abu Dhabi has clocked up nearly half a million views across Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram.

The responses to it were full of praise, describing “rocket speed … wow,” with some suggesting the best way for the batsman to play the delivery would be from the non-striker’s end.

The fact he had become a star in cyberspace was a surprise to Ayan, who was raised in the UAE but is now studying for a commerce degree in Hyderabad.

His father Musheer Ahmed, who has lived in Abu Dhabi for the past 23 years, had sent the clip to espncricinfo, and Ayan only happened on it after being told about it by a friend.

“I only saw it randomly,” Ayan, who turned 20 in April, said.

“It was getting a lot of views, as it had been a few hours, but wasn’t viral at that point. Later on, it went crazy.

“I felt good, and there were a lot of positive comments about it.”

The online fame provided a pick-me-up for a young player who is missing cricket while living in lockdown alone in his student accommodation.

He moved to Hyderabad in 2018 to dovetail studying with an attempt to forge a professional cricket career for himself in India.

That was against the wishes of his family back in Abu Dhabi, who had wanted him to stay with them while pursuing further education in the capital.

Ayan’s decision was prompted by being overlooked for selection for international honours in the Emirates.

Cricketer Raees Ayan. Courtesy Musheer Ahmed
Raees Ayan bowls during his time in Under 19 cricket in Abu Dhabi. Courtesy Musheer Ahmed

“That was my first dream, to play for UAE,” said Ayan, who was born in India but brought to live in the UAE when he was three months old.

“When I was in the Under 16s, the coach at the time Aaqib Javed saw me at an inter-schools match. He said he needs to see me in the trials.

“I had to miss those trials, but ever since then I have wanted to play for UAE.

“Now, I am not in touch with anyone there, but I would love the chance to play.”

Since moving to India, his opportunities to advance his game have been limited, even if he has been a net bowler for the IPL franchise Sunrisers Hyderabad on occasions.

Cricketer Raees Ayan. Courtesy Musheer Ahmed
Raees Ayan bowling for Zayed Cricket Academy. Courtesy Musheer Ahmed

His first year after leaving UAE was focused on his college studies, while rain accounted for much of last season. Now, the pandemic is likely to account for much of this season, if not all.

“Because of Covid-19, most of this season will probably be cancelled, too,” Ayan said.

“The season would usually be starting about now, but academies haven’t opened yet and I don’t think matches will be played. I have been missing cricket a lot.”

His time away from the field has been focused on strength and conditioning, as he seeks to add a few extra yards to the pace that so impressed in his video clip.

He might have inherited his talent for fast bowling from father Musheer. He had been a left-arm fast-bowler in his own playing days, and was one of the first to be enrolled at the MRF pace foundation with Dennis Lillee, in 1987.

But he scarcely played after moving to Abu Dhabi in the mid-1990s to take up a job as a finance manager in a construction company, so his son found a role model elsewhere.

And perhaps not the most obvious one for an Indian boy growing up in Abu Dhabi.

“I model myself on Liam Plunkett,” Ayan said.

“I have followed him since watching county cricket way back, and I can relate to him. I don’t know why.

“People have said my bowling action is a bit like his, so I started following him.”

Father Musheer is glad the five-second clip of his son bowling was well received.

“Because Ayan is over there, and he is not playing any cricket at this time because of Covid anxiety, I just wanted to motivate him,” Musheer said.

“We are all here, but he has moved there to pursue sports.

Cricketer Raees Ayan. Courtesy Musheer Ahmed
David East, the former chief executive of the Emirates Cricket Board, presents Zayed Cricket Academy captain Raees Ayan with the UAE Inter Academy League trophy. Courtesy Musheer Ahmed

“Of course I miss him, especially now with the situation the world is going through. He is there alone.

“But he is strong mentally, and he has told us not to worry.

“He went to India with the hope that he could become a professional cricketer. That is his main aim.”

Updated: June 10, 2020 01:53 PM

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