ABU DHABI // England’s success or failure in this series in the UAE might rest largely on how they combat Yasir Shah, Pakistan’s leg-spin revelation.
If their batsmen needed any pointers, they might have been advised to attend the practice match on Saturday between a UAE select XI and Pakistan, when a Sharjah-raised batsman took to Yasir, hitting him for a succession of sixes.
Maybe they could even think about borrowing the man himself altogether.
Farcically, Rameez Shahzad is eligible to play for both Pakistan and England – but not the country he calls home.
The 27-year-old batsman, who retired after scoring 55 against Pakistan’s Test side in the warm-up match, was born in Lahore.
His parents had lived together in the UAE for five years previously, though, and he was brought back to Sharjah when he was just a month old.
He has lived here his entire life – other than when he went to England’s north-east for university – and played representative cricket at age-group and senior level for the country.
If any further testimony as to the depth of his commitment were required, his father Shahzad Altaf also played for the national team, at the 1996 World Cup. They remain the only father-son combination to have done so to date.
And yet Rameez has been ruled out of playing for the country for years, on account of the time he spent studying in the UK.
Aaqib Javed, the UAE coach, is incredulous about being denied the services of a player who is so clearly a product of the UAE.
“He has grown up here, studied here, played youth cricket for UAE at under 16, under 19,” Aaqib said.
“Then he went to England for his studies and played for Durham second XI [with and against current England tourists Ben Stokes, Mark Wood and Liam Plunkett].
“Then when he came back, ICC rules said he had to restart his qualifications. I don’t understand it.
“This is unfair to the guy. In nine months he will be available again to the UAE, and that is really hopeful for us.”
Rameez, too, is excited over his future prospects, with the elite game here becoming increasingly professional.
“With Aaqib in the set up, there is hope for UAE cricket,” Rameez said. “With that in mind, all the players are pushing really hard.
“At this point in my life, it is not just about me playing an ODI and being happy with that. I want to do really well, push ahead and further my career.
“I resigned from my job because, to be honest, I am not a banker. The only thing I know is to play cricket, the way my father taught me.”
Given his outstanding performance with the bat against Pakistan’s Test side at the weekend, maybe the land of his birth might be interested in Rameez’s services.
They are not averse to picking players of Pakistani origin who spent their formative years in the Arabian Gulf, after all.
Shan Masood, the likely opener against England, was born in Kuwait, before his family relocated after the onset of war.
Aaqib says Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s captain, was impressed by Rameez.
“Rameez really smashed Yasir Shah, and hit Imran Khan, the fast bowler, straight back over his head for six,” Aaqib said.
“He was dominating, and Misbah said, ‘This guy can bat, this is your future.’ He has got talent, but when you go to Pakistan, it is not only about talent – it is about luck. There are so many players. He is already 27, and I think it is a bit late for him. If he was 17, he could take a risk, go back to Pakistan and prove a point.”
And if Stokes, Plunkett or Wood were to seek out their one time colleague for some tips on how to play Yasir, Rameez does have a few.
“His googlies are not that easy to play because he bowls it quicker than other spinners, so you don’t have much time to see it,” he said.
“But the most difficult bowler to face was Zulfiqar Babar, without a doubt. I have faced quite a few left-arm spinners, but nobody like him.”
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