SHARJAH // Most cricketers who have just turned 13 years old would be forgiven for feeling a keen sense of apprehension when playing against boys two years older than themselves.
When Mohammed Ali Mirza takes to the crease for Young Talents Cricket Academy (YTCA) in an Under 16 academy tournament tomorrow, though, he is more likely to regard it as child's play.
The young all-rounder may have only recently entered his teenagers, but he has been a regular in men's cricket for some time now.
Not just any men's cricket, either. He plays for Nucaf Tellicherry in the Bukhatir League, the 50-over A Division competition which has long been regarded as the leading tournament in UAE domestic cricket.
"He is a very talented young guy and we are happy to have him in our team," said Yasin Bahmaid, 27, who is a teammate of Mirza's with both Tellicherry and Young Talents.
"It is a challenge for boys like him to play men's cricket and good experience to play against guys who are older than them and of such a good standard. He will definitely be good enough to play for UAE in future."
Mirza, who was born in Sialkot in Pakistan and was four years old when his family moved to Dubai, aspires to represent the country of his birth at cricket.
It is a far from outlandish dream, according to Shahzad Altaf, the former UAE national team bowler who is his coach at YTCA.
"If he doesn't change how he does things and keeps progressing the way he is, I think he will definitely be good enough to play for Pakistan when he is older," Altaf said.
Altaf, whose academy has been a mine for UAE national team players over the years, had no aversion to encouraging Mirza to play senior A Division cricket last year when he was only 12.
"He is strong for his age and very brave," the coach said. "Ali is so talented.
"These good young players should be playing up [in age groups] if they are ready.
"We work hard on his batting, 30 or 40 minutes most days against senior players and he faces the bowling machine at 75mph (120kph) no problem."
The Winchester schoolboy opened the bowling against a UK men's touring team, including a number of players who were old enough to be his grandad, in Sharjah yesterday.
His inexhaustible appetite for the game will see him return to action when the Young Talents Under 16 side search for a first win in the academies tournament when they play Al Madina at 8.30am in Al Dhaid tomorrow.
And he will not be nervous facing bowlers far older than he is.
"Shahzad has trained us hard with batting, bowling and fielding so I wasn't worried," said Mirza, who has a top score of 80 and best bowling figures of four for five with his off-breaks. "I didn't worry, I just played. The standard was very good but I still thought I could play against them."