Lack of power in his legs and Daniel Vettori's success spurred him to prefer spin bowling over pace as left-armer prepares for Nepal tie in the Asian Cricket Council Trophy.
Ahmed Raza's blessing in disguise
ABU DHABI // At first sight Ahmed Raza could be mistaken for a paceman. His athletic build and height would suit bowling at pace, but he prefers bowling the spin that won him a place in the UAE side.
Khurram Khan, the national team captain who bowls left-arm spin, is Raza's role model and taught him all the tricks of his trade. He also drew inspiration from Daniel Vettori, the former New Zealand captain, and Suleiman Benn, the West Indian, both tall left-arm spinners in international cricket.
Raza, who was born and grew up in Sharjah, will be in action on Wednesday when the UAE meet Nepal in the opening match of the 10-team Asian Cricket Council Trophy at Sharjah Cricket Stadium.
"I tried to bowl fast when I first started but didn't have the power in my legs because I had grown taller at a very young age," said Raza, who stands 6ft 3 ins (1.9m) in height.
"I watched Vettori and Benn bowling left-arm spin, and was inspired to follow in their path. Thereafter it was Khurram who taught me every trick he knew to mould me as a bowler."
Raza, who will turn 24 on October 10, started playing cricket in the streets and at school, and when he grew more serious about the sport, he joined Shehzad Altaf's academy at the age of 13.
"Like any kid from the subcontinent, cricket was the game I wanted to play," Raza said. "I was selected to the school team and went for the UAE Under 15 trials but didn't get selected.
"However, that kept me in the loop with a few call-ups for the Emirates Cricket Board Blues in the domestic games.
"The following year I was picked for the Under 17 Asia Cup in India in 2004."
Raza had been in and out of the UAE team but has been a regular over the past two years. "At the end, hard work pays," he said.
He has lost three kilograms in weight since Aaqib Javed, the former Pakistan pace bowler, took over as the national coach in March and put an emphasis on his fitness.
"It is not only physical fitness but we are now conscious about the diet as well," he said.
"We have been training four days a week these days and I do one day on my own and then have one game a week for my employer.
"We haven't had an off season in the last two years. We toured Holland and had the camp before that which went on for two months.
"It was the fasting month of Ramadan when we returned from that tour and we had the domestic matches during that time. We started to prepare again for the ACC trophy. So we really haven't had an off season."
Raza is the youngest of four siblings (he has two brothers and a sister), but neither they nor his parents are interested in sport, apart from watching matches.
He represents United Bank Limited, his employer, in domestic tournaments in Abu Dhabi and has already made two appearances in the Grand Midwest ADCC President's Cup over the past two weekends. The weather is still harsh for cricket but Raza is not averse to it, or to playing on the cement pitches and sandy outfields he became used to growing up in Sharjah.
His team scored 384 for one in their allotted 25 overs against Waziristan.
Amjad Ali, his UAE teammate, hit 204 not out but Raza went wicketless from his three overs despite UBL bowling out the opposition for 135.
"It is actually a little tough to make yourself give 100 per cent against such teams," Raza said.
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