UAE’s Amjad Ali will get a chance to showcase his elegance at World Twenty20

The batsman will be a key component in the challenge in Bangladesh, the first UAE side to appear at an ICC world event since 1996.

Amjad Ali did not get a chance he wanted in his  native Pakistan, and wants to prove a point. Pawan Singh / The National
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He does not have the girth of Brazilian football star Roberto Carlos, but Amjad Ali is not far off with the hair, or the lack of it.

Carlos is an important point of reference for Ali because it was football, not cricket, that drove him when he was young in Lahore. “I used to love Roberto Carlos. I thought he was the greatest.”

The Brazilian was the role model Ali dreamt about becoming when he was young.

But for a double fracture in his right leg, the UAE opener could have played for Pakistan’s national football side. He already had played for the Under 16 side and his elder brother, Asadullah Tariq, was a Pakistan regular. His family, Ali said, is “a footballing family”.

That injury has been the UAE’s gain. It pushed him into cricket seriously at the age of 17 – late by Pakistan’s standards.

After playing for a famous Lahore club, Gharhi Shahu Gymkhana, and for Punjab University, he broke in to a strong Lahore side, which included internationals Imran and Humayun Farhat, Bazid Khan and Saleem Elahi.

He never really stood out at Lahore and in 2004 he moved to the UAE, as a cricketer for Abu Dhabi Duty Free.

“I didn’t really think about staying on,” Ali said, days before the UAE team flew out to Bangladesh to take part in the World Twenty20.

“I did all I could there. One year at Under 19 level I made five consecutive hundreds, and when I didn’t get a chance after that I thought I should do something for myself. So I moved here.”

Since then, but specifically since joining United Bank Limited, Ali has hovered in and around the national team.

That he is capable of sublime moments is not in doubt. The 77 he made against Sri Lanka in the 2008 Asia Cup in Lahore remains one of the finest international innings by a UAE batsman.

Part of a total of just 148, Ali launched an elegant assault from the beginning of that innings when he whipped three fours through the leg-side off Nuwan Kulasekara’s opening over.

The shot of the day came in the second over when, with a Brian Lara-esque backlift, he straight drove for another four. That kind of left-handed elegance, typified by Lara and Saeed Anwar, remains, despite Ali being in and out of the side since that Asia Cup innings.

It does not always look quite as effortless though, and he has had to often bring a grunting, sweaty power to his batting.

Since being brought back by UAE coach Aaqib Javed to a regular spot in the side this year for the World Cup qualifiers in New Zealand, there has been more rigour about his game.

“I was working hard on my fitness in that time when I was out of the side. I had the self-belief that if I work hard and score runs, they will call me,” Ali said.

“Aaqib likes guys who work hard on their fitness. He looks after them and he appreciates that. He saw I was training and I did a lot of fitness work individually to get myself back in.”

Aaqib has made a big difference. Not only has he transformed the fortunes of the national team, his effect on its individual components has been immense.

(See related articles for more profiles on UAE cricketers)

Ali is testament to it. “We were cricketers before he came, too, but what calibre of cricketers we were he showed us,” Ali said.

“We didn’t know of our own level of talent. We were those Friday weekly players and that was it. But he has brought us alive.

“We were out of shape, overweight and he has brought us back to proper fitness. I have never seen a coach like him.”

Ali will be a key component in the challenge in Bangladesh, the first UAE side to appear at an ICC world event since 1996. Conditions should not be alien to them, especially to their spin attack.

But as they showed in New Zealand this year, when they suddenly switched to a four-man pace attack in helpful conditions, they are versatile.

They are hungry, too, one of the last amateur sides in the top strata of world cricket. Since returning from New Zealand, Ali said, they have not missed a day of training, beginning right after work and stretching through to 10pm.

“The team I am confident will do well and give a good account,” he said. “My target is that I help the team. At the end of the day runs count but I want to score runs that are effective.”

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