Although he found himself on the losing side, Adnan Mufti could not have asked for a better debut when he first represented the UAE in December 2016.
The 32-year-old showed no signs of nerves at the Dubai International Stadium, scoring a superb 69 runs against a strong England Lions team but his heroics could not save his new team from a 16-run and 3-0 series loss.
Seven months on, the batsman is now an established member of the squad, having made the cut in every series this year. As a lower-order batsman, he’s played a total of nine matches but is yet to score another half-century for his new adopted nation.
And the former Rawalpindi first-class cricketer is desperate to end that wait beginning with the three-match 50-over series against the Netherlands in Amsterdam on Monday.
“I want to score as many runs and play the full innings and score at least two half-centuries and make a difference,” vowed Mufti ahead of the team’s departure to the Dutch capital on Wednesday morning.
“Whatever the situation is, I want to make a difference. It’s going to be my first opportunity to play in European conditions and I want to bat until the end of the innings and help the team reach a big total that we can defend.
“I have good memories of my last half-century for the UAE. While we lost the match, I knew from that very moment I had taken a big step in cementing my UAE spot.”
Excellent first day's training in The Netherlands 🇳🇱
The UAE 🇦🇪 team looking sharp & focused.
Bring on day 2! 🏏
— UAE Cricket Official (@EmiratesCricket) July 13, 2017
Prior to that debut, his domestic performances for Danube Lions meant he was on the radar of the UAE team but could not feature until he completed his four-year residence as per ICC rules.
During that period, he sent out another reminder of his potential, batting the full day and scoring an impressive unbeaten 70 in a friendly two-day match between Danube and the UAE in latter 2015.
His opponents included current skipper Rohan Mustafa, spinner Ahmed Raza and pacer Mohammed Naveed, who all got a first-hand look of him at the crease.
“It was nice to score against the UAE because some of the players as well as Aaqib Javed (former coach) asked how many months I had before I could become eligible to play,” recalled the Bukhatir XI player. “I was later drafted in a trialists squad before representing the UAE.”
He added: “It feels great to be a UAE player because many of my team-mates like Rohan and Naveed told the selectors to give me a chance, which I’m grateful for. Now I want to play an important role in UAE cricket and play well to help us win as many games as possible.”
Just one step away from representing the UAE at both Under-16 and U-19 levels this year, Ansh Tandon and Aryan Lakra both admit they would be hugely disappointed if they are not selected in the final squads.
Fifteen-year-olds Tandon and Lakra, are the only cricketers to find themselves in both age groups of the on-going training camp at ICC Academy, having impressed during the domestic season last term.
With a pool of more than 40 hopefuls, the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) are set to announce their final 15-man squad next week for September’s U-16 ACC West Asia Championship participation in Qatar, while they will name their team for October’s U-19 Asia Cup qualifiers in Kuwait next month.
Both players made their international debuts last year at U-19 level, and while the chances of playing for the national team this year are greater than before, they are not taking anything for granted.
“The target is to get into both squads and it would feel really good and be a surreal moment,” said Tandon, who has scored 233 runs in A Division tournaments for Sharjah Cricket Club and ECB Blues.
“It’s a good challenge to push for places but it will be very tough for the selectors as everyone in both the camps are very good.
“I feel confident but not taking anything for granted for sure.”
Lakra echoed Tandon’s view. “I had played last year for the UAE and I would be a bit sad if I don’t get into both squads,” said all-rounder, Lakra.
“I have been practising very hard recently in the nets and gym and to be playing for the UAE U-16 and U-19 this year would be the cherry on the top for me.”
He added: “The camps have been going really well but we have noticed the standard level has gone up and the coaches are making us work to ensure we are ready if we are selected for the UAE teams.”
UAE head coach Dougie Brown has challenged Chirag Suri to make the most of his opportunities in the Netherlands series this month after seeing an improvement to his game since returning from the IPL.
Suri, 22, has been recalled for the three-match 50-over series against the Dutch, starting next Monday after a six-month absence and the first time since his stint with Gujarat Lions ended.
He failed to get any game time in India but training with the likes of 2011 World Cup winner Suresh Raina, ex-New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum and Aaron Finch certainly had a big impact on Suri’s development.
The evidence was there to see with the former GEMS Modern Academy and Repton School pupil scoring six half-centuries in the domestic tournaments.
Now seven weeks on from the IPL, Brown is encouraged by Suri’s game and believes it bodes well for him to make his mark in the national team, beginning with the Dutch.
“He’s had a good six or seven weeks in the IPL and he looks a very matured and well all-rounded player now,” said the 47-year-old, who will take charge for the first time as head coach after serving a successful three-month stint as interim.
“Clearly he was a talented player before he went away to India but I think he’s come back more polished. He’s just 22 and it’s a good age to be getting opportunities. He’s a very talented cricketer and there’s no doubt that he will add to the dynamic that we’ve already got.”
— Denzil M Pinto (@denz_360) June 19, 2017
He added: “We’re hoping with him playing that he can perform and that’s the same with any other player in the squad.
“The fact that he’s young and inexperienced is many ways irrelevant. Having been in the IPL, if there was any step to take up to the national team then it is now. He’s confident and I feel that given the chance, he’ll do really well for the team.”
For Suri, a former UAE U-19, who has five senior caps, he’s part of a 14-man squad that will be skippered by Rohan Mustafa.
The captain has been impressed with Suri’s efforts in training and feels he has all the qualities to become “one of the best batsmen for the UAE”.
“He’s been performing well and I feel he can be one of the best batsmen for the UAE,” said the 28-year-old all-rounder.
“If you have a youngster in the team, then it’s good sign for those players in the youth levels.
“I felt before that there should be some Under-19s players in the UAE team because you can give them support and it would be very good to blend more youths,” he added.