Asia Cup: UAE-born and bred, Amjad Javed juggles a job of unsociable hours and long hauls but is country’s ‘most important player’
In a 13-year international career for the UAE, Amjad Javed has been used to celebrating half centuries on the cricket field. This year, though, he has been celebrating one of a different kind.
Or, more precisely, his family have. His grandfather moved to Dubai from Lahore 50 years ago, when Amjad’s father was just two years old, to work as an officer for Dewa, the utilities supplier.
His father went on to run a building maintenance company, while Amjad now dovetails working for Emirates airline with captaining the national cricket team in Twenty20 cricket.
For a side who are often derided beyond these shores as being entirely reliant on imported talent, it only seems fair to point out their leader could not be any more firmly rooted in the UAE.
It is where he first learnt the game, where he has played all his cricket since, and the only place he considers home.
“There was a tennis ball match in 1985 when I first started playing, as a child,” said Amjad, 35, before leading the UAE to Bangladesh for the Asia Cup this week.
“My grandfather was doing the umpiring for one of the teams. He told me to come and do some fielding. I got involved, and that is where it started.
“When Pakistan won the 1992 World Cup, it was a turning point for me, as was seeing the UAE in the 1996 World Cup.
“That gave me a boost. It made me think our country, UAE, could also play cricket. At that time, as a child, I was assuming UAE could play only football on the big stage.”
Amjad even supports a local football team, which is generally, no matter how much the powers-that-be at the Arabian Gulf League have tried to spread the word, still the preserve of UAE nationals.
He says he does like watching Barcelona and Arsenal on the television, but that his first love since his youth has been Al Wasl.
He and his four brothers and two sisters split their devotions evenly between football and cricket, thanks to a football-loving uncle.
The young Amjad, though, soon found a hero of a different kind. Perhaps it is no surprise he is a now a fast-bowling, big-hitting all-rounder.
“When I watched Imran Khan in the 1992 World Cup, and saw his personality and his attitude towards the game, I always thought, ‘OK, man, this is the one guy I want to follow. I want to become a leader, too’,” he said.
“If God would give me the chance to play for UAE, I wanted to become like Imran Khan.”
Children growing up in Dubai in the 1980s and ’90s were not short of opportunities to see Imran and his Pakistan colleagues in the flesh.
Sharjah Cup cricket was a craze at the time, but Amjad says, although he went to few matches, it was not as often as he would have liked.
“In those days, you had to go to school,” he said. “There was not much spare time, you had to collect your pocket money to go to Sharjah, and it was far, with lots of traffic. It wasn’t possible without your parents going with you.”
Back then it was school. Now it is work commitments Amjad has to juggle to pursue his obsession for cricket. He is a cargo load master. Up until last year, he was based at Dubai International Airport. Just before the 2015 World Cup, though, he landed a promotion.
Great for his career, of course, but less so for his cricket, seeing as it meant he now travels with the cargo, to all points of the globe.
Attending nets is a tough ask when you are on the other side of the world, but the national cricket team are used to it. It was a regular undertaking their former leader, Khurram Khan, had to make, too.
Amjad says Khurram, who works in Emirates cabin crew, was an inspiration to him, both as a captain, a cricketer, and a work colleague.
“When I started working for Emirates, I was doing a day-night shift,” Amjad said. “I played most of the 50 over games after doing my night duty.
“Whenever I went to the game, there were people in the team complaining, saying ‘Oh, I’ve had to come straight from duty’.
“But Khurram would land from a flight, come straight to the ground, hit a century, then go straight back to the airport in the night and take a flight to Doha or Kuwait. I was lucky to watch him, and lucky to have him on my side.
“Khurram said, when you are at the ground, you have to leave everything behind, don’t think about anything but the game. It gives you a lot of energy.”
The positive energy that Amjad radiates is part of the reason he was made captain of the Twenty20 side, who face Afghanistan in the opening match of their Asia Cup qualifying round on Thursday.
“He is the most important T20 player for UAE,” Aaqib Javed, the UAE coach, said.
“His mindset is very clear and simple. Whenever we have a meeting, he will say few words, but they will always be like, ‘We don’t care who we are playing, we are playing this game to win’.
“He is so clear and positive. These are the type of people you need as captain. The guys who never give up, who are pushing hard all the time.
“The captain is a reflection of the team, so if he is positive, and looking forward, and always playing to win, that is a straightforward and positive message.”
Turning the stresses of the workplace into a positive on the cricket field remains a necessity for the national team players.
The UAE have still yet to give out professional playing contracts, and many of the leading players, such as Amjad and Ahmed Raza, the captain of the 50-over and four-day sides, are thriving in their day jobs, too.
And if their captains refuse to allow excuses, the players really have to follow.
“There are times when I have to be travelling with my cargo freighters, doing all the calculations, working out how to load the heavy and long pieces in the aircraft,” Amjad said.
“Playing cricket gives you extra energy at work. In the aviation business, there is much pressure. If you compare the pressure of both if you are good at one side, you will be good at the other as well.
“At work, I convert cricket pressure to work pressure, and that makes things easy.”
Holders: Sri Lanka
Most successful sides: India and Sri Lanka have both won the competition five times.
Qualifying round (matches in Fatullah)
Friday, February 19 Afghanistan v UAE, Hong Kong v Oman
Saturday, February 20 - Afghanistan v Oman
Sunday, February 21 - Hong Kong v UAE
Monday, February 22 - Afghanistan v Hong Kong, Oman v UAE
Asia Cup (matches in Mirpur)
Wednesday, February 24 - India v Bangladesh
Thursday, February 25 - Sri Lanka v Qualifier
Friday, February 26 - Bangladesh v Qualifier
Saturday, February 27 - India v Pakistan
Sunday, February 28 - Bangladesh v Sri Lanka
Monday, February 29 - Pakistan v Qualifier
Tuesday, March 1 - India v Sri Lanka
Wednesday, March 2 - Bangladesh v Pakistan
Thursday, March 3 - India v Qualifier
Friday, March 4 - Pakistan v Sri Lanka
Sunday, March 6 - Final
Pedigree: Regulars in recent editions of the World T20, and debutants at the 50-over version last year, Afghanistan have the best credentials of the four sides in the qualifying round.
Player to watch - Mohammed Shahzad
Still baffling he was overlooked for selection for last year’s World Cup, based on his pronounced waistline. He is no skinnier now, but a change of coach has meant he is back in favour and firing.
Firing to the tune of the first Twenty20 century by an Afghan earlier this year in Sharjah, when he made 118 not out against Zimbabwe. He has hit his country’s highest score in all three formats of the game.
Pedigree: A substantial turnover of players since the World Cup last year has proved difficult to manage, and results have dipped alarmingly. There is still plenty of talent around, though.
Player to watch - Shaiman Anwar
Likes being on the television, which is a good thing at major tournaments, but not so much the rest of the time. Shaiman is richly talented, but often has less of an effect than his skills merit.
Now the most reliable batsmen since Khurram Khan and Saqib Ali have given in to retirement, the onus is on him to be the match-winner.
Pedigree: They beat hosts Bangladesh at this stage of the World T20 two years ago. Results since, which includes a whitewash of UAE at the end of 2015, suggest that was no fluke.
Player to watch - Mark Chapman
An elegant left-handed batsman, Chapman was outstanding against the UAE in Dubai last year, even though he nearly missed the flight as he had to sit exams in Auckland.
Studying in New Zealand, he has also been playing top-flight cricket. Last month he hit 157 in 111 balls in a 50-over game for Auckland against Northern Districts. He is a rare talent.
Pedigree: Shock qualifiers for next month’s World T20 – at the expense of UAE, among other teams. They will be making their debut at this level and remain an unknown quantity.
Player to watch - Zeeshan Maqsood
The most productive batsman for Oman during their successful campaign at the World Twenty20 in Scotland and Ireland last summer.
The left-hander is a free-scoring top-order batsman, whose left-arm spin is usually a key of Oman’s T20 game plan with the ball, too.
Amjad Javed (captain), Mohammed Kaleem, Rohan Mustafa, Shaiman Anwar, Mohammed Shahzad, Swapnil Patil, Usman Mushtaq, Ahmed Raza, Zaheer Maqsood, Mohammed Naveed, Farhan Ahmed, Qadeer Ahmed, Mohammed Usman, Fahad Tariq, Saqlain Haider
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