It’s not every day the UAE internationals get to rub shoulders with some of the biggest names in cricket and that too on their very home turf.
But that’s exactly what happened to 10 cricketers at the inaugural T10 League. Rameez Shahzad, Mohammad Naveed (Bengal Tigers), skipper Rohan Mustafa, Imran Haider (Kerala Kings), Shaiman Anwar, Zahoor Khan (Maratha Arabians), Amjad Javed, Saqlain Haider (Pakthoons), Shareef Asadullah and Ghulam Shabbir (Punjabi Legends) were all picked up by the team owners of the five franchises in November’s player draft.
The fact that so many were snapped up by the owners, whose franchises’ squads would include the likes of World T20 and Champions Trophy winners was no surprise. It was a rule implemented by the tournament organisers, making it compulsory for team owners to select two UAE cricketers in their squads.
Their selection at the time, would open the doors to showcase their talent on a more bigger stage in front of 15,000 fans at Sharjah Cricket Stadium and millions worldwide. It was something that the Emirates cricketers were chasing for, having proved their worth at Associate level.
Their time had come to make a name for themselves beyond the Associate-level sphere. But by the time Eoin Morgan was hoisting the trophy with his Kerala Kings’ team-mates late on Sunday night, only half of those got playing time under their belt over the four days.
Mustafa was named in the starting 11 for all five matches but with a squad boasting the likes of Morgan, Paul Stirling and Keiron Pollard, the opening batsman had to settle for number seven in the batting list. By the time he did come on with the bat, he faced just one delivery, knocking his only boundary and four runs of the tournament.
For pacer Mohammad Naveed, he was one of the standout players for the UAE, taking three wickets and scoring 11 runs in his four matches with Bengal Tigers, while Zahoor Khan, who played the same amount of games claiming one scalp.
Another person who made four appearances for his side was wicket-keeper Saqlain Haider but with the format favouring the batsmen, he could only show his handy work behind the stumps with one catch.
You counted us out, but we fought back like a wounded tiger!
— BengalTigers_T10 (@BengalTigersUAE) December 15, 2017
While those players will cherish those memories of sharing the same dressing room and training with the elite stars, they will be disappointed to have not been given more opportunities to prove their worth.
As Mustafa put it, he might well have got a winning medal from the tournament but with the 13 matches crammed in four days, the schedule did them no favours.
“To be honest, we didn’t get much time to train with the team captains and they don’t know much about us,” he lamented.
The tournament organisers will have understood their frustrations and disappointment so if plans do materialize of having four UAE players in a squad with two named in the starting 11 in the next edition, then they deserve a lot credit for helping Emirates cricket move forward.
It’s something that will aid the players because there is a lot of talent in the national team, who have enjoyed one of their most successful years of late. In 31 matches, they have won 22 including a 2-1 serie 50-over win over Netherlands in Amsterdam.
Mustafa has certainly risen to the occasion since being appointed the new skipper in February with one of his highlights coming in April when he became the third cricketer to score a century and a five-for in ODI cricket against Papua New Guinea.
At 38, Anwar has shown he still has plenty left in the tank by becoming the first UAE player to score a T20I century, while spinner Ahmed Raza, who was not picked in T10 League, finished as the top wicket-taker in the four-day ICC Intercontinental Cup with 32 scalps.
That’s not to mention Chirag Suri, who became the first Emirates cricketer to be bought in an IPL auction when he was sold to Gujarat Lions in February.
The T10 League has shown it can capture imaginations and put players in the spotlight. Paul Stirling’s blistering half-century in the final is proof of that and could well open the doors to other lucrative leagues. There’s no reason why it can’t happen to the UAE internationals.
Mustafa’s record this year with the bat has proved he was more than capable of scoring big runs as an opener for Kerala. The team captains and coaches just need to realize their potential and give them a chance.
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