SHARJAH // Twenty-four years after making his first-class debut in his native Pakistan, Mohammed Shafiq will get a belated crack at international cricket after being selected for the UAE.
The wicketkeeper, 44, has been handed the gloves for this week’s Intercontinental Cup match against Namibia at Sharjah that starts today.
He is also expected to play a role in the crucial World Cup qualifying matches against the same opposition on Friday and Sunday.
Shafiq ended his professional cricket career in Pakistan five years ago and moved to Abu Dhabi, where he works as a site foreman for Ghantoot group.
If life had worked out a little differently, his international bow might have happened in the green of Pakistan, rather than the grey of the UAE.
The Punjab-born gloveman enjoyed a productive first-class career in his homeland, having made his debut in 1989.
However, he found his route to national honours for Pakistan consistently blocked by fellow wicketkeepers Moin Khan and Rashid Latif.
“It is my dream to play international cricket, for any national team,” the Abu Dhabi Gymkhana wicketkeeper said.
“I’m a wicketkeeper-batsman, and my time in Pakistan coincided with Moin Khan and Rashid. They had long careers and there was no chance for me.” Aaqib Javed, whose paths crossed regularly with Shafiq in domestic game, thinks his new charge was unlucky not to have represented Pakistan.
The UAE coach has called on his former counterpart as he regards him as a cricketer who has “guts”.
“He is a hard cricketer, with 150 games in Pakistan for experience,” Aaqib said. “He is a tough cricketer with plenty of experience and pride in his performance.
“He is still fit enough and he wants to be there and prove a point.
“He is a gritty cricketer.”
Shafiq captained Younis Khan, among other Pakistan Test players, in club cricket in his homeland before he moved to the UAE capital.
Despite the debutant’s age, Aaqib expects Shafiq to lead by example in a vital week of cricket for the national team.
Once the four-day Intercontinental Cup match is concluded, the side will switch their attention to two 50-over matches, which could go a long way to defining the future of UAE cricket.
If they secure two wins, the UAE would likely leapfrog the Netherlands into second place in the World Cricket League Championship.
If Afghanistan then lose either of their matches against Kenya in the same competition next month, the national team could take the second World Cup qualifying berth behind Ireland.
“He will never give up and he is very confident,” Aaqib said of Shafiq.
“I have never seen him wearing a helmet, even against the world’s fastest, most dangerous bowlers, like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar.
“He has got guts. I’ve always wanted him to come close to the team, as he can add lots of value to the team.”
What Intercontinental Cup
Where Sharjah Cricket Stadium
Who UAE v Namibia
Timings 10am start, admission is free
Khurram Khan (captain, above), Saqib Ali, Shaiman Anwar, Mohammed Azam, Nasir Aziz, Mehrooz Khan, Rohan Mustafa, Mohammed Naveed, Swapnil Patil, Ahmed Raza, Saqib Shah, Mohammed Shafiq, Kamran Shahzad, Shadeep Silva
Raymond van Schoor (captain), Stephan Baard, Christopher Coombe, Michau du Preez, Zane Green, Jean Pierre Kotze, Xander Pitchers, Bernard Scholtz, Nicolaas Scholtz, JJ Smit, Christiaan Snyman, Louis van der Westhuizen, Christy Viljoen, Helao Ya France