UAE’s World Cup run bringing boost – and offering hope – to domestic cricketers

Paul Radley writes about how aspiring representative cricketers were inspired by the UAE’s appearance at the 2015 Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand last month.

UAE bowler Mohammed Naveed, left, celebrates taking a wicket at last month's 2015 Cricket World Cup in New Zealand with wicketkeeper Swapnil Patil. Ross Setford / AP / March 4, 2015
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DUBAI // Shaiman Anwar has come back down to earth. At a Twenty20 tournament in Dubai, the man who was briefly above AB de Villiers, Kumar Sangakkara, and everybody else in the World Cup run charts made a measly six playing for Alubond against Globelink.

There was nobody there to watch, no TV interviews to conduct. There were no pyrotechnics exploding from the top of the sightscreen, or big screens charting the distance the last six travelled.

This was a long way, metaphorically and geographically, from the Gabba in Brisbane, where Shaiman had become the first UAE player to score a hundred in a World Cup match two months ago.

Fitting back in to every day life must be a tough grind for all the squad after what went before. Crucially, though, the exploits of the national team’s players in Australia and New Zealand did not go unnoticed.

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Emirati and expatriate players alike had their enthusiasm for the game kindled by seeing the national team represented on the world stage.

Even if all six matches were lost, aspiring representative players have been inspired by seeing the likes of Shaiman taking on the game’s best bowlers, and by Mohammed Tauqir shackling its leading batsmen.

Alawi Shukri is an Emirati batsman who has returned to playing having more or less given up the game due to work and family life.

At 25, Shukri still has plenty of time to make a return to the national team, who he played for at the Asia Cup in 2008.

He says being an Emirati playing an expatriate-dominated sport has often made him feel like the odd one out in the past. The bowling feats of Tauqir, another UAE national, at the World Cup, have changed that, he says.

“It really makes me proud,” Shukri said. “I am proud to tell all my old colleagues: Look, that was Tauqir and he is a UAE national.

“It gives a different image when you are back here playing domestically. When they see you are a national they think you are odd. I usually tell them I am a guy from Auckland, New Zealand or something, so I don’t feel like the odd one out.

“Guys like me who are Emiratis, we were all looking up to him, someone we can relate to.

“It is not like we can’t relate to the other guys, but it is good to have someone from your side performing. That was the great thing about it.

“I think Tauqir did the best out of everyone, and he is a UAE national who has never played in Pakistan. It was good to see.”

According to Yodhin Punja, an Indian national who was born and raised in Abu Dhabi, young players like him now have the belief that playing on the world stage can be a realistic ambition.

The seam-bowler was named in the 30-man probables squad before the World Cup, despite being a mere 15 years old. He missed the final cut, but he feels the top level is now within reach.

“Before this, you never really knew how good UAE cricket was as compared to other cricketers around the world, top-class cricketers,” Punja said.

“In the game against Ireland and the game against Zimbabwe, there were a few big name players playing, like Brendan Taylor and Kevin O’Brien.

“When you found out the UAE just lost in the last five overs in close games, it shows that we are playing a top level of cricket.

“To know I am among players who are as good as these other players around the world, it was really a boost and it motivates you to work harder. It shows you you can be as good as anyone else.”

Watching the World Cup might have been a bittersweet experience for Chirag Suri. He had been part of the side who earned qualification for it, in New Zealand a year earlier, only to be one of the last names cut in the final reckoning.

However, the 20-year-old opener, who has been in fine form in domestic cricket since then, was buoyed by how his colleagues fared.

“Everybody wanted to be there, so it is good to feel frustrated by it in a way, because it makes you want to work harder to get there,” Suri said.

“Whatever has happened, it is for a reason. I wasn’t too far away from that squad, so it was good to see players like Shaiman doing well against that bowling. It feels really good to see it.”

pradley@thenational.ae

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