By Amir Husain
Playing for their national cricket team would be a dream for most players of the game but how would they react if they were given a chance to play against their heroes?
This was a somewhat happy situation that was faced by most members of the UAE cricket team as they faced up to a full strength Pakistan cricket team recently for a two day practice game at the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
Arranged by former Pakistan pace bowler turned UAE coach, Aaqib Javed, the two-day practice game was an opportunity for the Pakistan team to get acclimatized to “home” conditions ahead of their Test series against the world’s No 1 ranked Test team South Africa.
Pakistan were able to win the game comfortably, largely thanks to paceman Mohammad Irfan‘s (four for 28) and spinners Saeed Ajmal (three for 20) and Zulfiqar Babar (three for 44) as they dismissed UAE for 190 to win by 127 runs. However, for the UAE players like Rohan Mustafa, the 25-year-old all-rounder from Kohat, this was possibly a once in a lifetime chance to prove their mettle against a world class bowling and batting lineup.
Speaking exclusively to PakPassion.net, an understandably elated Rohan spoke about his own career, his impressions of the game against Pakistan as well as the chances of an upset victory by Pakistan against South Africa in the upcoming Test series.
Having moved to the UAE at the age of 10, Rohan like many children of expatriate workers in the Middle East was attracted to cricket from a young age. He played his cricket for Sharjah cricket academy and then moved on to the UAE Under-19 team, where after some impressive performances he was selected for the UAE ‘A’ team. He has subsequently played for the UAE national team but he credits Aaqib Javed for allowing him the opportunities to play in the UAE senior side on a regular basis.
“I have been member of the UAE squad since 2009 but for one reason or another had been in and out of the team which was frustrating. However, since Aaqib Javed has taken over, I have featured regularly in the team. He has also helped me and my team mates develop a lot of confidence in our own abilities and our results have reflected that. He has devoted himself to our development and helped us in every way possible. As a team we can only thank Aaqib for his efforts to take us to where we are today.”
Whilst the UAE players can derive a lot of satisfaction from their position as one of the strongest non-Test playing sides in Asia, no amount of exposure to other associate teams for the UAE players would equal the experience of playing against a star-studded Pakistan team as Rohan indicated.
“We asked Aaqib to help us play against a major team before our ICC World Cup qualifying round in November but we never expected to land a game against Pakistan! Of course playing against one of the top international sides featuring the likes of Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Irfan was a huge opportunity for us. We reckoned that 20 or 30 runs each against such a bowling attack would be a big morale booster for us! All I can say is that after facing these bowlers, we feel very good about ourselves and we have asked our coach to try and arrange a One-Day International (ODI) game with the Pakistanis in the latter part of their stay in the UAE — they have agreed to consider our request which is great for us.”
Playing against one of the most talked about bowlers on the international circuit would have been an amazing experience for any upcoming batsman and Rohan was full of praise for Pakistani bowlers, especially the towering Mohammad Irfan, describing him as an outstanding bowler and a nightmare for most batsmen worldwide.
“We saw him against India on TV — we know that with that height he can make the ball rear up from a good length and this is a problem for most batsmen round the world. Whilst we were aware of what he can do, nothing prepared us for the real thing! The wicket in Abu Dhabi was a little slow so there wasn’t that much of a threat from him, but there was obviously pressure on us as we knew we were facing an international standard bowler. The fact is that in this extreme heat and even with the slowness of the wicket, he bowled some extraordinary deliveries at us and he took my wicket so I am saying this with personal experience! Apart from that we had also heard of Zulfiqar Babar. In fact, some of us had already played some domestic cricket in Pakistan against him and he really impressed us. He will be a handful if the wickets he plays on against South Africa take some spin.”
Practice and goodwill games apart, the real challenge for Pakistan lies ahead as they face up to South Africa in a two-Test series. Given their disastrous outing in South Africa where they lost all three Test matches to the home team and their subsequent form as witnessed in the Test defeat against Zimbabwe, there are grave concerns about how this team will fare against the visitors in UAE. Having watched and played against the Pakistan team at the same venue where they will be facing the mighty South Africans in a few days, Rohan is of the opinion that the Pakistani spinners will have the upper hand.
“We only saw Pakistan field for one day but from what we saw, their fitness looks very good. The Pakistani batting line-up in my view is dependent upon the likes of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq. We were so impressed by these two batsmen. They are the heart of the Pakistani batting and others will need to play around them. To be honest, I did not see any other batsmen who one could say would be able to battle it out against the likes of [Dale] Steyn and [Morne] Morkel! As for the bowlers, I really feel that Pakistan will win this series if the spinners can have access to pitches that assist spin otherwise the wickets are too slow for the fast bowlers to have an impact.”
The match between UAE and Pakistan may have been one of unequals but the banter between the two teams appears to have been that found at an international level! Whilst Rohan was at pains to speak of the friendly relations between the teams, there was an instance which provoked great mirth for some on the field.
“Basically Pakistan batted twice and when Khurram Manzoor was out the second time, we jokingly quipped that maybe he should come back a third time as well to see if he can do any better — I don’t think he liked that! Anyways, we all had a laugh after that and it ended on a happy note.”
Pakistan and South African begin the Test series on October 14, with the first Test at the Sheikh Zayed stadium in Abu Dhabi, followed by the second Test in Dubai on the October 23.
(Amir Husain is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net)
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