ABU DHABI // When Abdul Haq, a lorry driver for an Abu Dhabi building company, went to Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium to assist the Pakistan cricket team in the nets before their second Test match against South Africa recently, he could not have imagined he might someday be a professional player.
On the second day of Eid, the 27-year-old Pakistani accompanied four other pacemen to bowl to Pakistan's finest. During the session, Haq caught the eye of the coaches Waqar Younis and Aaqib Javed, both former pace bowlers for Pakistan.
"We've invited him to come and practise with us" in the National Cricket Academy in Lahore, said Intikhab Alam, a former Pakistan player and now team manager. "He looks good, and he is quite sharp."
Haq hails from the troubled region of North Waziristan. The only training he has had is from tribal area coaches, and he credits them for his cricketing ability. He played under-19 matches at district level but failed to move on. Eventually he stopped playing altogether.
A little more than two years ago, Haq moved to Abu Dhabi and started playing for Abu Dhabi Gymkhana. As with most blue-collar workers in the UAE, Haq said earning a living took priority over everything else. But as soon as he found a cricket club in Abu Dhabi, he dedicated most of his free time to the game.
"It takes a lot to remain fit, eat right and practise regularly," he said. Yet he managed to do it all on top of performing a physically taxing job. Despite the limitations, he has excelled.
Islam Sultan, the manager of Abu Dhabi Gymkhana, was not surprised that the Pakistan team took notice. "He is an all-rounder who has played 50-over regional matches for the club, in which he has been superb," he said.
"He is a terrific bowler who has the potential to play for Pakistan, if given a chance."
The fast bowler also practised with the South African team before Twenty20 matches. Bowling to professional batsmen had been a learning experience, he said.
"Whenever I see an international bowler practising at the stadium, I watch his bowling style and landing."
It is rare that a player who has not gone through the rigour and training of professional cricket from a young age makes it to the national team.
Haq's hard work is paying off with this opportunity to train with some of the best players from his home country.
"This is the right time for me, and I have the power in my bones to pace for many years to come," he said. "Good bowlers are born with it."
Intikhab affirmed this. "Twenty-seven years is not typically old; the success of a player depends on his physical fitness," he said, adding that Haq was quite strong.
Whether he can meet the team's expectations, however, is yet to be seen. "Watching someone in the nets is one thing, but seeing him play cricket in a pressure game is another," Intikhab said. "We need to see him play first-class cricket."