Teenage bowler Yodhin Punja summoned from school holidays to play for UAE cricket in Scotland

This week’s Intercontinental Cup match against Scotland will be Punja’s second first-class match for the UAE, after he played against Hong Kong in Dubai at the end of 2015, writes Paul Radley.

Yodhin Punja in action against Royal Belfast Academical Institute of Ireland in the ARCH Trophy U19 at the Abu Dhabi Cricket Council Oval-2 on March 28, 2016. Amith Passela/The National
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Yodhin Punja has been summoned from his school holidays to play for the UAE against Scotland, after visa issues deprived the national team of two of their senior professional players.

Punja, 17, moved from Abu Dhabi to the UK in June, ahead of the start of his sports scholarship at a boarding school in Sussex next month.

The seam-bowler has dovetailed an additional summer studies course with playing club cricket in England since he arrived.

As such, he already felt suitably acclimatised after his late call up to the squad as a replacement for Qadeer Ahmed last week.

Qadeer, one of eight new full-time professionals contracted to the Emirates Cricket Board, missed the trip due to an administrative problem processing his visa for the UK.

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Saqlain Haider has also replaced Ghulam Shabbir, who was initially named as wicketkeeper for the series, for a similar reason.

This week’s Intercontinental Cup match against Scotland will be Punja’s second first-class match for the UAE, after he played against Hong Kong in Dubai at the end of 2015.

Despite the circumstances around his return to the side, he is confident he can succeed having performed well in a warm up match against a Hampshire development XI.

“I’ve had no problems acclimatising, and Paul [Franks, the UAE coach] has been helping me with my bowling action,” Punja said.

“I’ve put on a bit of pace since I moved from the UAE as I’ve been doing a lot of strength work, but in that process I felt like I lost my wrist-position a little bit.

“Paul has worked on it for three days, and on game day in Hampshire, it was perfect. It was very good and I feel in good rhythm now.”

The Abu Dhabi-born bowler is unlikely to feel overawed by his call up. He has been around the side for nearly two years now, having been named in the extended squad ahead of the World Cup last year when he was still just 15.

He played in a friendly match for the UAE against Pakistan’s Test side earlier this year, and his form in English club cricket has been good.

“Yodhin is at an impressionable age, playing cricket in the UK for the first time, and his body is developing at a rapid rate,” Franks said.

“He has had a few things going around his mind. We have tried to simplify everything for him, and trying to help him develop a game plan that will allow him to do well in the UK.”

Amjad Javed, the UAE captain, said his team are confident of notching their first points in the Intercontinental Cup, after their positive display in the warm up match in Hampshire.

“We have spent time in England and I think the batsmen have made optimum use of this opportunity,” said Amjad, who took seven wickets in the game in Hampshire.

“I feel very confident going into this match and convinced that we can play solid cricket against Scotland.”


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