Shahnawaz Hakim Yousuf, the capital city-based sports administrator, has served the game he loves so much in every capacity imaginable and with a rare dedication.
An all-rounder Abu Dhabi cricket cannot do without
Shahnawaz Hakim Yousuf has been a public relations secretary and an umpire, a pitch builder and a tournament organiser.
For more than 30 years, he has been an unsung hero of Abu Dhabi cricket, doing everything in his power to help the game he loves grow from a casual pastime into one of the most popular sports in the emirate.
Shahnawaz, as he is popularly known, arrived from Pakistan as a teenager in 1974 and began organising matches with other youngsters his age. He became a voluntary public relations secretary for the newly established Abu Dhabi Cricket Council (ADCC) in 1989, and he has been serving the game ever since.
"All his life he has been actively involved in cricket," Qaiser Amin Butt, a former member of the ADCC, said. "His passion for the game has remained the same from those humble beginnings to the current status of cricket's growth in Abu Dhabi.
"He has contributed immensely towards the game and its development, and most of the time in an honorary basis. Such was his devotion, he was willing to do anything for cricket."
Shahnawaz's experience as an umpire came about by accident, but there was no doubt he took it seriously.
"In those early days, we didn't have enough umpires, and Shahnawaz was the first choice in the absence of an official at any game," Butt said. "Once I asked if he knew the rules, his reply was that he was praying he didn't get into a situation to declare a batsman out.
"He later became thorough with the rules. He turned up as a regular umpire and became the head of the ADCC umpires panel."
Shahnawaz, 53, arrived in Abu Dhabi with his father, Dr Hakim Yousuf Aziz Khan, who was posted as the commercial attache at the Pakistan embassy. His parents enrolled him in The Pakistan School in Dubai, where he continued his education.
He returned to Pakistan in 1977 to complete his BA degree at Karachi University but visited Abu Dhabi every three months. After he graduated, he found work at the Department of Social Services and Commercial Buildings. He worked there until the Abu Dhabi Government decided to dissolve it in 2003.
"When he lost the job, the ADCC decided to employ him because of his contribution to cricket," Butt said. "Thus he became the first [paid] employee of the ADCC."
Shahnawaz, who is third in a family of three boys and a girl, was the only one with an interest in cricket.
"We lived in Islamabad near the Rupa cricket grounds, and I use to watch the cricketers train and play games," he said. "I was only five at that time, and my father, having seen my interest in the sport, bought me some cricket gear and that is how it all started."
He played for his primary school and the Islamabad Government College as a fast bowler. When he arrived in Abu Dhabi, he searched out youngsters of his age to play his favourite game.
"It was a period when you could get into any vacant land in the capital city to play a game of cricket," Shahnawaz said. "There were also enough players around.
"We use to play in the area where the Etisalat headquarters is now located, on top of the Electra Road, and at the land where the Cultural Foundation is. All we did was to lay out a carpet and the playing area was created.
"I had a large group of players to select from and formed the Young Cricket Club. We played matches every weekend against five or six other clubs at that time and large crowds turned up to watch the games."
Cricket became the favourite pastime for many expatriates, particularly those from the subcontinent. In 1980, tournaments were organised and the number of teams increased significantly.
Shahnawaz became heavily involved and spent from his own money to construct cement pitches on any available land. According to him, it cost around Dh4,000.
Shahnawaz related a few tales from his cricket experiences. He said he was bitten by a snake when he tried to retrieve the cricket ball from a bush when he was in Pakistan.
"Fortunately, for me, my home was nearby and they rushed me to the hospital, which was also nearby," he said. "My friends with whom I was playing thought I was running away with the ball."
Shahnawaz had also a narrow escape from being run down by a car in Pakistan when returning from a cricket match. "My whole body was under the car, but miraculously I suffered no serious injuries," he said.
His saddest moment came after his arrival in Abu Dhabi, when he lost his close friend and roommate, Yameen Ehsan, who was killed in the Gulf Air plane crash near the Al Ain-Hatta Road in 1983.
"Yameen had requested me to travel with him to Pakistan and back, and had I accompanied him, I would have been in the same plane," he said.
"I didn't travel because I had been to Pakistan in the previous month and didn't have enough money for the ticket."
Shahnawaz renamed his club Yameen, and he organised a tournament for the Yameen Ehsan Memorial Cup for four years from 1984 to 1987. He ran the club on his own expenses for 24 years but was forced to discontinue when he lost his job in 2003.
"The ADCC was kind enough to employ me," he said. "It was a great gesture from some of the ADCC officials to provide me employment and opportunity to continue my involvement in cricket."
He said he is grateful to Dilawar Mani, the chief executive officer of the Emirates Cricket Board and the former president of the ADCC; Wajahat Husain and Inam ul Haq, the incumbent president and general secretary of the ADCC; and BR Shetty, who employed him when he was the president of the ADCC.
Hectic as his schedule can get, Shahnawaz still manages to make time for his passion. And with his family relocated to Pakistan, all his time is spent at the cricket stadium.
"Growing up nearby a cricket ground got me hooked on the game," he said. "My passion for cricket hasn't diminished one bit and if I am working for the ADCC it is because I want to be involved in the game forever or as long as I can be."
When he got married, he had placed a condition to his wife, Rubina, not to stop him from playing or being involved in the game. Now he has the opportunity to do more work for cricket as a full-time employee of the ADCC.
One of the dreams he has fulfilled is to be part of the organising committee staging international matches.
Shahnawaz plays multiple roles as the tournament secretary for all domestic competitions, office administrator and overseeing the playing areas and logistics for competitions. He also has a more active role when international games are staged at the Zayed Cricket Stadium.
Qazi Ayub, the head coach of the MCC-Zayed Cricket Academy and another long-serving cricketer in Abu Dhabi, paid a glowing tribute:
"There are many people [who] work, but you can't get anyone who is dedicated like him. He is a true servant of cricket. His efforts and work on cricket come from the very bottom of his heart. Doing the job with love, dedication and deep commitment is what makes Shahnawaz's stand out from the rest."