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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 28 May 2018

A decade after his debut, Rameez Shahzad ready to get back among the runs for UAE cricket team

Over a decade after debuting for the UAE while still a schoolboy, Rameez Shahzad is ready for a belated second chance at international cricket.

UAE players Rameez Shahzad, left, and Ghulam Shabeer during a training session at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium in Sharjah. Satish Kumar / The National
UAE players Rameez Shahzad, left, and Ghulam Shabeer during a training session at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium in Sharjah. Satish Kumar / The National

Over a decade after debuting for the UAE while still a schoolboy, Rameez Shahzad is ready for a belated second chance at international cricket.

The big-hitting batsman made his first-class bow for the national team against Ireland in 2005, in a match in which Eoin Morgan scored 150 for the opposition.

Both players subsequently tried their luck in English county cricket. Morgan went on to switch allegiances to England, win a World Twenty20, play Indian Premier League cricket, and become one of the most recognisable players in the game.

Rameez, by stark contrast, has rarely been spotted since. The time he spent studying in the UK while attempting to make it at Durham in the county game cost him eight years of his international career.

His pursuit of a professional contract in England was only realistically possible if he attempted to qualify as a resident.

Having been born in Pakistan – albeit he had moved to UAE, where father Shahzad Altaf was a renowned national team player, within months – he had to restart the four-year qualifying process upon returning to the Emirates.

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As an outstanding player on the domestic scene, his recall to the squad has felt long overdue for all involved in UAE cricket.

The matches against Scotland next month will be his first competitive appearances for the UAE since the 2008 ACC Trophy final against Hong Kong in Malaysia.

“Back then I had been doing well in domestic cricket but was not selected to play in the [2008 Asia Cup in Pakistan] and I became disheartened,” Rameez, 28, said.

“Geoff Cook, the Durham coach, suggested I come to England to do a stint in county cricket and to do my education there as well.

“Even though I wasn’t born here, I have lived in this country for 24-25 years, and I had played for the UAE. But my case went to the ICC and they said I didn’t qualify.

“The Emirates Cricket Board tried on my behalf, but I had no option but to wait.”

The lost years were a waste for both the player and the national team. Had life worked out differently, Rameez might have been an established part of a middle order that is now in need of stability.

The national team are still coming to terms with the en masse retirement of senior players such as Khurram Khan, Saqib Ali and Mohammed Tauqir. Rameez wants to be part of the solution.

“As a kid, when I used to see Khurram play, I used to think to myself, ‘One day I am going to be the Khurram Khan of this team’,” Rameez said.

“I think that time is here now, and hopefully I can do it. My goal is not only to reach a major tournament, but to do well there.

“We have played World T20, World Cup and Asia Cup now and our aim should be to qualify for the second round next time.”

Paul Franks, the UAE interim coach, hopes Rameez does justice to his rich ability upon his return to the side in Scotland.

“He is very talented, and this is going to be a big step for him,” Franks said. “The fact he has played some cricket in the UK is an advantage to him.

“He talks like he wants to be a good international player, but there is a lot of educating to do there. He has got some hurdles to cross.

“Is he going to nail it straight away? I don’t know, but in the medium to long term, I think he is going to be a very good player for the UAE.”

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