As he sat in his usual seat in front of an air-conditioning unit at the Sharjah Stadium, Colin Wells, the UAE coach, seemed remarkably unaffected by news that he had just had the most high-profile assistant in the history of cricket thrust upon him. Other commitments permitting, Andrew Flintoff could in the coming months be helping Wells mentor the finest amateur players this country has to offer.
The nature of the England all-rounder's involvement in UAE cricket remains vague. The sport's first freelancer is still on crutches as he convalesces in Dubai following surgery to remedy a serious knee injury. The UAE officials are more concerned that he gets fit enough to walk again sometime soon. Anything else will be a gratefully received bonus. Wells had been keeping himself abreast of Flintoff-related developments via the television. He has had the odd call from the UK press, but he is not likely to be blinded by all the unexpected media glare.
While Brand Flintoff try to shoehorn helping out the Emirates Cricket Board into the diary, in between publicising his latest book and planning for TV appearances doing dangerous sports like bungee jumping, not to mention the eight hours of rehabilitation per day, Wells has his own concerns. Such as deciphering which players qualify under which rules to play for the national team. Or getting his elite squad, all of whom have to juggle their work commitments around playing cricket, to train on time.
Perhaps their employers would be a little more receptive to the UAE's finest ducking out 10 minutes early if they said Flintoff is waiting for them at nets. "Hopefully this will cause an up-swell in interest among youngsters who are interested in cricket but might be tempted to sway away from the game towards other hobbies," said Wells, who played two one-day internationals for England, both in Sharjah in 1985.
"And for those who are perhaps thinking about hanging up their boots, it might give them another breath of life. The interest can only be good. It is a classic win-win situation. "It is also good exposure for UAE cricket and the world-class facilities that we have here." Despite the obstacles faced by his amateur players, Wells is relishing the challenge. He seems happy when discussing cricket's minutiae, such as methods of countering spin-bowling during the slog overs, even at 1am on Friday night as the TenSports Sharjah Ramadan Twenty20 Cup final meandered towards its conclusion.
Tournament favourites Eurocon Alubond comfortably won the finale against William Hare Abu Dhabi in front of around 700 spectators. The odds were stacked in their favour, with the likes of Pakistan internationals Nasir Jamshed and Hassan Raza in their ranks. Raza played the last of his seven Tests for Pakistan back in 2005 against England and Flintoff, whose celebrity was at the zenith having helped England win back the Ashes.
Raza made his Test debut 12 years ago, and is still only 27. Jamshed is, like Raza, another of Pakistan's young prodigies, having made 74 on his first-class debut at the tender age of 15. Still only 19, he has already played 12 one-day internationals for Pakistan. But the smattering of stardust failed to distract Wells. He was more bothered by the performances of Vikrant Shetty, the Mumbai-born UAE batsman who outscored both his celebrated international colleagues in the final, and Irfan Haider, who led the resistance boldly for William Hare.
Both qualify to play for the national team under the ICC's four-year residency rule, of which two are permitted in the starting XI. Despite pressing their claims for inclusion here, they face a tough task dislodging the present incumbents, the Abu Dhabi all-rounders Nithin Gopal and Fayyaz Ahmed. "I think this is a fantastically- organised domestic competition, which invites high-calibre players from overseas, from Pakistan and Sri Lanka in particular," added Wells, 49.
"The domestic players that come against them and perform well are therefore performing at a very high standard. "It can only be good for the selectors, who can choose on a firmer footing, and for the players themselves to come into contact with better competition and a better standard of players." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org