DUBAI // Sat on a stage in front of a huge screen projecting images of cricketers skydiving over Palm Jumeirah, Virender Sehwag was debating the prospects of his new Masters Champions League side.
The Gemini Arabians have Sehwag himself, the one-of-a-kind opening batsman from India. They have Saqlain Mushtaq, the Pakistani who invented the doosra and now reckons his new teesra is ripe for unveiling in the MCL. Muttiah Muralitharan and Kumar Sangakkara will be there, too.
And, Sehwag mused over the microphone, many of the stars are still playing professional cricket at some level or another, which can only be a good thing.
Then he leaned over to his left, put his arm around the player next to him, and asked: “And maybe you are still playing, too?”
No name check for Saqib Ali. As disappointments go, that would not have ranked anywhere near the top in the recent career of the UAE batsman, though.
At about this time last year, Saqib was cut from the national team for the World Cup, despite being, along with Khurram Khan, one of its most reliable batsmen for the previous decade.
A little belated acclaim in the MCL, as well as the $10,000 contract for being recruited, will not salve that hurt, according to Saqib, but he is still glad to be involved.
“The World Cup is the World Cup, a different kind of experience altogether,” Saqib said.
“In this world, what you want, you won’t always get. This can happen anywhere.
“I think I am lucky enough now to mix with these legends. I feel really honoured to be part of it, and I am looking forward to it.”
One of the many laudable features of the MCL Twenty20 competition is the fact the squads have to include at least some presence from nations beyond the Test sphere.
They will not be the players who bring supporters through the turnstiles to come and watch, but the likes of Saqib, Khurram Khan, and the Irishman John Mooney could prove to be key players for their sides.
Followers of international cricket from beyond the mainstream will know that merely coping with the celebrated competition is the least Saqib will manage.
If he gets anywhere near his best, in fact, he will thrive and could become a star in a competition invented for the big names.
The 37-year-old batsman from Multan in Pakistan will not be overawed. He played age-group cricket in his homeland with a variety of the star names involved. He also proved to have a liking for the big stage once he had switched his allegiance to the UAE, like when he scored a ton in the final when the national team shared the 2012 ACC Trophy title with Nepal.
“It is really exciting for me,” Saqib said of the six-team MCL, which will start on January 28 at Dubai International Stadium.
“As a local guy, there is a responsibility on me, and if I get a chance I will do my best to make the most of it.
“I faced Shoaib Akhtar, and I played youth cricket with Saqlain Mushtaq and Rana Naved Al Hasan, too. We went to New Zealand together in the same age group.
“I am not worried. I am always playing to my strengths and not worrying what the strengths of others are.”
Three of the most successful players in the history of UAE cricket will be mixing it with some of the sport’s greatest names in the Masters Champions League.
Team: Sagittarius Soldiers
New star teammates: Adam Gilchrist, Mahela Jayawardene
Role: Left-handed all-rounder.
Career highlights: ICC Associate and Affiliate player of the year in 2015. UAE captain for the majority of the past decade. Oldest ever one-day international centurion.
Team: Leo Lions
New star teammates: Brian Lara, Herschelle Gibbs
Career highlights: Captained UAE at the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Part of the winning team at multiple ACC Trophy tournaments.
Team: Gemini Arabians
New star teammates: Virender Sehwag, Muttiah Muralitharan
Role: Middle-order batsman
Career highlights: Captained UAE at the 2008 Asia Cup in Pakistan. Only UAE representative in a combined Associate and Affiliate XI against England in 2012.
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