UAE bowler feels sad for Afghans

Pity poor Zahid Shah, who led the attack for the part-timers from the Emirates against the power-hitters from Sri Lanka.

The UAE Criketer Zahid Shah during practice at the Sharja Cricket Stadium in Sharja.
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KUALA LUMPUR // The lot of fast bowlers in Asia are not always a happy one. For every rare chance they get to display their wares on a seaming, green-top, there are at least 10 occasions when they will be flogged to within an inch of retirement on featherbed, batting idylls.

Then there was the heat. When the UAE travelled to Lahore to pit themselves against Test sides in the Asia Cup last month, temperatures were stifling. Pity poor Zahid Shah, who led the attack for the part-timers from the Emirates against the power-hitters from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in Pakistan. As the fastest bowler in the UAE, he begins his run-up from halfway to the boundary. By the time he finished his 10-over spell in the opening game against Bangladesh, he could barely walk.

Even though the innings still had a few overs to run, he hobbled straight from the field to the sanctuary of the air-conditioned dressing-room. Yet, there had been no way he could ever contemplate giving up. Some people had made far greater sacrifices just to come and watch him play. "My mum was there in Lahore," recalls Zahid, a 28-year-old quick-bowler who works in the collections department of Emirates Islamic Bank. "She was praying for me. I am thankful to my parents, they have always been behind me.

"She came from Peshawar, by bus. We are quite a poor family. We don't have many assets over there. The drive took six hours. "It was always my dream to play on that field for Pakistan - but it came true when I played there for the UAE instead." Heading to Malaysia for the ACC Trophy this week, Zahid could fairly have expected greater returns for far less effort than he showed in Pakistan. The UAE had been unbeaten in the competition for eight years - yet they were humbled by their unheralded neighbours Saudi Arabia in their opening game this time round.

They got their challenge back on track by beating Afghanistan by three wickets on Saturday, and Zahid was at the wicket, in his less regular guise as a batsman, when victory was sealed. It was a significant victory. Cricket provides a glorious distraction for the players of strife-torn Afghanistan, a sentiment with which Zahid can empathise. Zahid was the most incisive bowler in the competition after spin-sensation Ajantha Mendis. While he was performing heroics at the Asia Cup, violence was raging in his native North West Frontier Province which borders Afganistan.

"It is very sad for the people there," said Zahid, who represented Peshawar in Pakistan's most prestigious one-day tournament before moving to the UAE. "It is mostly confined to the villages and the frontier areas, rather than actually in Peshawar, so luckily my family are not really affected. I feel very sad for those people who are affected by it." Accepted knowledge suggests opening bowlers, especially when they are the fastest in their country, are usually single-minded, attention-seekers. Consider the case of Shoaib Akhtar.

However, listening to Zahid, you would think all his achievements were attained via consensus, and that he was merely a conduit of everyone else's good work. His heroic effort of his full quota of overs in the searing heat of the Lahore summer was all down to the coaches, according to Zahid. "The weather wasn't just a bit hot - it was extremely hot. It was difficult to overcome that, but thanks to our physio [Chitrala] Sudhaker, and our coach [Vasbert Drakes], we could. They worked on us a lot in the lead-up to the tournament, and thanks to that we were able to cope."

And what of his rise to prominence in UAE cricket? "My ambition was always to play for Pakistan, but we had family problems, and I had to choose between cricket and helping my family. "I opted to help my family, so I moved here to UAE. At that time, I didn't even know there was cricket in the UAE, and I certainly didn't expect to play for the national team. "I got a breakthrough when I was at Belhasa Driving Centre. They helped me a lot to play domestic cricket, and I am very grateful to them.

"They were really proud when I got the chance to represent the UAE. It was thanks to them that I got the chance." He credits the UAE's former chief selector, Abdul Razzak Kazim, and the Emirates Cricket Board administrator, Mazhar Khan, for giving him the chance to flourish on the top stage. "I am indebted to them, and to all the coaches who have helped me," he says. "The rewards were there in the Asia Cup."