UAE’s Rameez Shahzad believes he’s a better batsman now than he was in May when he flew out to England for a short-term club spell.
The 30-year-old played 25 matches in the space of four months for Philadelphia Cricket Club as he tested himself against English opposition in the Durham Cricket League.
Shahzad is a key member of the national team, scoring more than 800 international runs, so it was no surprise he let the bat do the talking in style for Philadelphia.
He made an instant impact by scoring a half-century on his debut and by the time he left for Dubai earlier this month, Shahzad had nine fifties and one century to his name. He could have added to that tally but had to return to the UAE to prepare for the Asia Cup qualifiers in Malaysia at the end of this month.
Yet, the fact that he impressed in the north east of England is no shock. He spent time in the UK earlier in his career when he studied in the region playing for Sunderland and South Shields in the Premier League.
And Shahzad believes the time at the crease has helped him develop his all-round game which he can start putting to practice for the UAE in Kuala Lumpur.
“It was an amazing experience for me as a cricketer,” said Shahzad. “In England, the conditions are very difficult because the weather changes constantly and is very unpredictable. It’s quite rare to find conditions that are half decent for batsmen. With so much grass and the ball swinging in all different directions, you have to be focused.
“I think the one thing I have learnt is that you can’t switch off. When you’re batting on a perfect track there are times where you can switch off and just keep going. But in England, that is not the case. Even if you score a hundred, even if you do one bad shot, you will get out. You really have to grasp the situation and be awake in all the innings.”
He added: “My footwork has also improved and that helps me get more runs for the team which will be good for my development and the UAE national team.”
Shahzad said he is always open to returning to Philadelphia for another stint after praising their hospitality during his stay.
“I would love to go back and play for them again,” he said. “I really enjoyed myself there and they are a great bunch of lads with whom I enjoyed playing cricket with every week.”
The UAE have already begun preparations for this year’s Under-19 Asia Cup with aspiring cricketers looking to press their case for selection over the summer.
Up to 25 players have been put through their paces since June after being selected by the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) following their impressive performances during the domestic season.
They will be aiming to be rewarded with a place in the final squad for October’s Asia Cup where hosts Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Nepal and Afghanistan make up the eight sides in the tournament.
With stern competition expected in Dhaka, the boys have been training every week at the ICC Academy with the ECB keen to give them the best preparation. It also provides an opportunity for the governing body to analyse performances before choosing their squad for the upcoming tournament.
ECB national development manager Andy Russell admits it was difficult to decide on a shortlist for the final stage of the selection process from a pool of more than 100 players.
“We are in a fortunate position of having a lot of young players coming through,” said Russell, the ECB’s national development manager.
“To identify the best is always difficult and there will be a group of players who will be disappointed not to be there (when the squad is announced). It was a difficult process but we have based it on the season-long performances.
“What was taken into account predominantly was the six-month academy league that we run – and the UAE Cricket League that we host. This training camp is the real block of training that we will give where the selectors will look to identify the best for the Asia Cup.”
The ECB have rolled out the same plans for their Under-16s although no international tournament has been scheduled.
“The Under-16s have been training every week since June but although we are still waiting on whether there will be any competition for them, it’s a great way for them to enhance their game and knowledge,” added Russell.
UAE women’s international Esha Oza says she has improved the mental side of her game after playing against England’s KIA Super League clubs last month in the UK.
Oza, 20, was part of the ICC Global Development Squad that travelled to England in July after being recommended by the Emirates Cricket Board for her outstanding domestic season.
The team, which consisted of players from Ireland, the Netherlands, PNG, Uganda and Scotland had a strong tour where they beat Surrey Stars twice (seven wickets and two runs) as well as Western Storm by five wickets. Their only loss came against Loughborough Lightning.
Although she didn’t bat as much as she would have liked to, Oza was effective with the ball, taking three wickets, including that of South African stars Lizelle Lee and Dane Van Niekerk.
“I didn’t bat as much as I would have liked but I scored an unbeaten 20 against Loughborough and hit the winning runs against Western Storms. Yet, batting against international stars and bowling to them is something I never imagined before,” she said.
“It was a really good experience and being on the same field was a fantastic feeling.”
She added: “The mentality of my game has improved a lot now and I know understand the importance of planning. We were told to plan out our innings and break the game in parts and play according to the situation. This really helped me understand how to play in different situations and how differently you have to play against different opposition.”
As well as the matches, the squad also undertook a biomechanics testing session at the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) national performance centre and was mentored by former England women’s coach Mark Lane.
The initiative is a partnership between the ICC and the ECB, who hope it can provide exposure to teams outside the top-eight ranked sides who feature in the ICC Women’s Championship in their bid to make the World Twenty20Is more competitive in the coming years.
And Oza, who was the only UAE player in the squad, hopes this programme can be held regularly so that her other team-mates can improve their game just like how she did.
“Yes, I hope this can be done on a regular basis by the ICC,” she said. “It’s a great boost for the women’s game and opportunities like these will only take the game higher and higher.”