Instances of cricketers leaving their birthplace to play for their country of residence are not uncommon. You need look no further than England’s penchant for South Africans for examples at the highest level.
And among the Associate Nations, the enormous amount of untapped cricketing talent in the subcontinent often provides countries and players the opportunity to play international cricket – albeit not for their country of birth.
In India – a country with a population of over 1.5 billion – the competition for the national cap borders on being cruel for a nation of people so obsessed with the sport. Despite possessing immense skill, many end up losing the race and fade into oblivion. Some of them leave cricket altogether, while others move to other countries for work and end up fulfilling their sporting dreams.
For the likes of the UAE, it can be of huge benefit and over the years, numerous Indian-origin cricketers have sported the jersey of the Emirates. Here, we look at four of those players to have made an impact for the UAE.
Nurtured in the grounds of Mumbai during his days as a junior cricketer, a 21-year-old Swapnil Patil found sporting salvation in 2006 when a construction company offered him the opportunity to move to Dubai and play for them. Four years later, he was playing against Bermuda in UAE whites.
Since his ODI debut against Scotland at Bert Sutcliffe Oval, which included a sensational run-a-ball 99 not out, Patil has emerged as first-choice ‘keeper for the UAE. He has now played 13 ODIs and 18 T20Is and remains a crucial cog in the UAE batting order across each format.
Having begun his sporting career for the state of Maharashtra before moving to the UAE, it was only fitting that Riaz Poonawala’s ODI debut was against India in April, 1994.
Opening the innings for his new country, Poonawala raced to a 14-ball 22 before perishing to a Bhupinder Singh delivery. He did manage to notch up another 22 four days later against Pakistan, but that was all for him in the international arena.
Amidst the Sachin Tendulkars and Vinod Kamblis, even a healthy average of 40.55 in the domestic circuit had not been enough to break into the Indian team. Poonawala, therefore, had had no other option but to take up cricket in the UAE if hew was to taste international cricket.
He also represented the UAE in the ICC Trophy in 1994 and the Pepsi Austral-Asia Cup in the same year.
Born in New York, Vijay Mehra spent most of his childhood in Delhi. He attended St. Columba’s School in the capital and had his initial cricket training at the National Stadium Coaching Center.
As the grandnephew of famous Delhi cricketer and administrator, Ram Prakash Mehra, the budding wicket-keeper batsman played in the Under-22 Cooch Behar and CK Nayudu tournaments, partnering opener Navjot Sidhu at times. Having settled down in the UAE in the late 1980s, it was a matter of time before he was called upon by his new homeland.
Mehra featured in six ODIs and 12 List-A matches including the 1996 ICC World Cup. His highest score of 43 may not be flattering, but at the time the UAE were new to life on this stage. That he was referred to as ‘the ‘Sachin Tendulkar of UAE cricket’ says a lot more than the statistics ever could.
As the first Keralite to play for the UAE, Krishna Chandran rose to prominence in 2013 after scoring heavily in the domestic circuit and emerging as the best player in the 2012-13 Umm Al Quwain tournaments.
The all-rounder from Kollengode, moved through the age-group levels of the Indian domestic circuit but had failed to grab the selector’s attention.
He did catch the UAE’s eye though and the 31-year-old has now played 11 ODIs and 20 List A games with three half-centuries to his name. His efforts against New Zealand and Pakistan A were his breakthrough performances, earning Chandran a debut against Afghanistan and a place in the UAE’s 2015 World Cup squad.
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