Hrithik Bhatia is one step away from representing the UAE Under-19s but the batsman is eager to prove he can also be a deadly wicket-taker – just 10 months after he had initially given up bowling.
The 17-year-old finds himself among the 20 plus players who are all dreaming of making the final 15-man squad for the national team’s Asia Cup qualifiers in October.
His impressive runs tally (963 runs) during the domestic season and inter-emirate tournament has seen him come this far but while he and the rest of his peers are all chasing the same objective, Bhatia is keen to rediscover his form with the ball.
At the start of the season, the G-Force Academy cricketer made the decision to give up bowling but as skipper of Dubai International Academy and with a lack of options in his school team, he took matters into his own hands.
His reward saw him finish third highest wicket-taker in the ADIB National School League (NSL) with nine scalps, while bowling once for G-Force with figures of 2-7.
“I was bowling before but I stopped initially at the start of the season because I wanted to concentrate on my batting and that has now come into good effect,” he said.
“I only bowled for my school team as skipper, I always wanted to win and there was no-one else I could turn to for those big wickets.
“Having played so many matches, I have to admit, that I felt quite bored because I was just batting.
“I wanted to bowl again as it just makes you more confident and makes you a complete all-round player.”
He is now beginning to find his rhythm again with his spin-bowling even if it meant he had to go back to the basics.
“I forgot how to bowl and just couldn’t get the line or anything,” he explains.
“Over time it came together and I gradually improved and got a really good line and length with a lot of deliveries. I am now taking some wickets which is a good thing.”
He has been putting that into good use during the training camp and with a few weeks to go until selectors name their squad, he’s confident the hours of practice with the ball will pay off.
“There’s still more to come for me,” said the Dubai International Academy pupil.
“I hope the bowling can boost my chances of being selected but the standard of players in this camp is very strong.
“I feel if I get to start performing now and bowl well, then the UAE cricket can benefit a lot. I want to continue batting strongly as well and I feel it will be for the better.
“I hope I can go on the tour. It would be a be a big privilege and an amazing experience. To play international cricket for your country is something that every child in the world wants to do.”
Sean Fekete’s fastball has undeniable heat, not unlike the many Dubai summers he’s spent popping catcher’s mitts in the hope of reaching where he is now.
On the mound, the 6ft 3in American is an intimidating force with a devastating array of pitches, but off the field he’s become a trailblazer and a symbol of hope for all baseball players not just in the UAE, but in the Middle East.
After completing his upcoming senior year at American School of Dubai, Fekete will head to the United States to attend Sacramento State University in the autumn of 2018 on a Division I baseball scholarship – the first person to ever do so from the Middle East, according to GCC university admissions specialists Hale Education Group.
The 17-year-old’s ambitions extend further to one day playing pro ball, but for now his achievement is the culmination of a journey that spans three continents.
“That’s the goal, to hopefully get drafted and work my way up, playing the game I love,” says Fekete.
Dubai, of course, is where the lanky teenager calls home and where his life has been shaped.
After moving to the UAE in 2011 at the age of 11, Fekete has blossomed as a baseball player despite living in a region whose vernacular is far more familiar with wickets than strikeouts.
Sport in general may be as big as ever in the UAE, but scholarships to US universities remain rare, let alone to Division I programmes.
“Coaches aren’t able to see you play, you have to send video,” Fekete says. “There (in the US), they can just go to a high school game.”
Whether or not Fekete would be in the same position had he grown up in the States, he did learn of one advantage Dubai afforded him while going through the recruitment process.
“When you send video and in the subject line it says ‘Sean Fekete: Dubai UAE’, that sort of catches their eye and they almost have to open the email you send telling them about yourself and what kind of player you are,” he adds.
Dubai has been integral for Fekete, but it’s not where he began.
He was born in Budapest and picked up a baseball for the first time at the age of seven in Moscow.
Though his first two stops were just as unlikely of places for baseball passion to flourish, Fekete’s father John, who’s now president of Dubai Little League, was there to pass the game on.
“Before every game, on the way to games, he’d have me say what I needed to work on for that day. He’s always been super supportive and he always thinks about me first and what the right decision is for me, first as a person and secondly as a baseball player,” Fekete says.
“My first glove was one of his old ones, some worn-down glove. His passion for the game went from him to me.”
For Fekete, a three-sport varsity athlete (volleyball and basketball), baseball has always been his true love. It wasn’t until last summer, however, when he started to feel playing Division I could be a reality.
As part of a trip to the US with World Baseball Showcases and Boston Red Sox scout Steve Fish, who’s helped Fekete along the way, he went toe-to-toe with Pac-12 players and more than held his own.
It’s no wonder then that Sacramento State, Villanova and Ohio University showed interest.
Ultimately, Fekete chose the West Coast school for its proximity to professional scouts, Fish’s connection to head coach Reggie Christiansen, the financial support it offered his family and a likely opportunity to play as a freshman.
Baseball still has plenty of room for growth in the UAE and while Fekete is certainly the exception and not the rule, in his eyes he could very well be opening the door for future players.
“I think I could pave the way to show coaches there’s talent out here, because right now they don’t really see what the talent is internationally and in Dubai especially,” Fekete concludes.
“As long as people work hard and put in the effort, they definitely have the chance.”
3M Healthcare Business announced that it is sponsoring the Spanish Soccer School, where Michel Salgado, the former Real Madrid player, is director.
In doing so, the corporation continues to support the UAE youth by encouraging sports involvement and promoting healthy lifestyles.
As a brand deeply entrenched at the core of the healthcare system, 3M Healthcare Business, in partnership with Dubai Sports City, emphasized the importance of sports care amongst the UAE youth.
A UAE University study published in an online journal in the UAE found that 40% of people aged between 3 and 18 years were overweight, 24.4% obese and 5.7% extremely obese.
These alarming rates speak to a common need to encourage the youth to actively partake in sports activities, and 3M Healthcare Business is furthering this agenda by sponsoring the Spanish Soccer School and working with Michel Salgado.
However, youth participation in sports has its caveats when it comes to injuries, and a Premier League Youth Soccer Study found that adolescence in the under 14 and 16 age brackets sustained the highest number of injuries during training.
Owing to its healthcare vertical, 3M Healthcare Business aims to ensure that the UAE youth avoids injury when it comes to training in sports.
“One of our primary business verticals is healthcare, and in line with this vertical, our aim is to promote sustainability in youth participation in sports. This means not only galvanizing the youth to the sports arena, but also creating an educative dialogue about the importance of safety and proper preparation when it comes to participate in sporting activities,” said Walid Feghali Country Business Leader of 3M Healthcare Business Group.
3M Healthcare Business is pleased to invite Michel Salgado to its innovation centre in Internet City to showcase its research and development across a variety of company verticals.
Customer Technical & Innovation Centers are unique to 3M Healthcare Business around the world and serve as a mechanism for customer inspired innovation.
“As someone who is passionate about youth in sports, in Dubai in particular, I was pleased to join hands with 3M Healthcare Business to promote not just sports participation, but also the important aspect of safety at the Spanish Soccer School,” said Salgado.