x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Aaqib Javed slots back in at 'second home' in Sharjah

Winning was a habit for the Pakistan bowler in Sharjah and he starts on a similar note as the new UAE coach.

Aaqib Javed remembers clearly where he used to field at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium.
Aaqib Javed remembers clearly where he used to field at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium.

Well, that was easy enough. After one truncated match in his latest position, Aaqib Javed, the new UAE cricket coach, might as well retire now. It might not get much better than this.

It did not take him long to slip back in to the old routine.

Being on a winning side in a match in Sharjah is a habit he has clearly not lost, despite the 15-year hiatus.

Admittedly, there were a few less people present to watch the receptionists, cargo loaders and storekeepers who made up the national team yesterday than used to watch Aaqib play Sharjah Cup matches for Pakistan in the good old days.

But it still stirred his passion. "When I arrived at the Holiday International hotel [on Tuesday], it felt like I had come back to our second home," Aaqib, 39, said after the UAE's four-wicket win over Scotland yesterday.

"We used to play twice a year here. I sat by the window, looked out at the water, and felt all the old memories."

Sharjah Cricket Stadium may be slightly frayed around the edges now, especially in comparison to the shining monuments to architectural excellence in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but it remains the most atmospheric cricket arena in this country.

The old ground has been restored to its pulsating best twice in recent months, when Pakistan played matches against Sri Lanka and Afghanistan in front of stands teeming with life.

Those matches evoked the spirit of the best days of Sharjah Cup cricket. Like the time Aaqib took a hat-trick against the old rivals, India, on his way to a career-best haul of seven.

They were the best of days.

"When I came back for the Afghanistan game, it had been a few years," he said.

"I stood in the middle and I could still feel and smell that atmosphere.

"I used to field there [at fine leg in front of the Qasim Noorani stand] and I can still feel it.

"Everything reminds me of those days. They are really good memories."

The fondness Aaqib feels for the UAE was a major driver behind his decision to leave behind his last job as Pakistan's assistant coach.

He is under no illusions about the challenges that face him now he is in charge of a group of part-time cricketers, rather than household name professionals.

However, there are plenty of incentives to leaving the mainstream, too, he says.

"I am married with one daughter who is 12, and whenever I was busy with the Pakistan team I was away for two, two and a half or three months a lot of the time," he said.

"They were really hard times. She is growing and it is tough when you have to leave your wife and daughter back at home.

"My daughter said she wanted to move to Dubai, and she can study here, which is another reason I moved here."

Aaqib, who is overseeing the two World Cricket League Championship matches against Scotland, then going back to Pakistan briefly and returning for good in April, sought the advice of his predecessor, Kabir Khan, before taking this role.

Kabir was back here in Sharjah yesterday. Ironically, he was wearing the grey of the UAE rather than the blue of his new employers, Afghanistan.

The Afghans are preparing for the forthcoming World Twenty20 qualifier, which is being staged across the Emirates this month, with Kabir back at the helm.

However, the former UAE coach will have been casting a fond eye over his former wards during their game against Scotland.

When he left, Kabir said he would feel hurt if all the good work he had done here started to unravel once he had left.

"I would offer my services to give the new coach my knowledge on all the players and conditions they will face here so they can get up to speed quicker," he said on announcing his departure as UAE coach.

His parting gift was a good one, as Aaqib acknowledges he played a significant role in him taking the position.

"Kabir said, 'Aaqib-bhai, I saw you working with the Pakistani team, why not jump in and take more responsibility. Good or bad, take the credit or take the blame'. That is what I am here to do," he said.

 

pradley@thenational.ae

 

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