UAE national cricket team captain says the sport needs to be taken to children of Emirati and expatriate origins.
Back to school for Khurram Khan
He may be into his forties, but Khurram Khan, the UAE captain, is still the country's most consistent performer. He has played cricket almost every day since he was old enough to hold a bat and has been part of the national team for 11 years.
Khurram was pivotal to the UAE's rise to become one of the best non-Test playing nations in Asia and helped them gain a share of the ACC Trophy last week when they drew with Nepal in Sharjah.
It puts him in a good position to talk about the future of the game in the Emirates. "The way forward is grass-roots cricket," he said. "The administration needs to take the game to the schools now that the UAE have the best facilities for the sport in the region, with turf grounds in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and Al Dhaid."
While the UAE beat Afghanistan in the semi-finals of the ACC Trophy, it is their counterparts who enjoy a higher profile in world cricket, having participated in the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka.
Khurram thinks more needs to be done to integrate expatriate players into the team if the UAE are to reach Afghanistan's level.
The most significant obstacle is the rule stating that boys who reach the age of 18 are ineligible to remain in the country under their parent's sponsorship, unless they continue their higher studies or find employment in the UAE.
"That's something the administration has to work on as school cricket remains the best way forward for the UAE. They need to get both the Emiratis and expatriates involved," said Khurram.
Against Nepal, Khurram hit 61 and shared a 87-run stand for the fifth wicket with Saqib Ali, as the UAE put on 241 for six in the 50 overs, a score matched by their opponents.
"It was a wonderful feeling to regain the title after six years," Khurram said. "We lost the opening match in this competition to Nepal and that perhaps gave us a wake-up call."
He has an older brother Ateeq, a first-class cricketer in Pakistan, who has helped Khurram master the finer points of the game.
"I played for a few clubs when I first arrived in the UAE [in 1996]and then got employment at Emirates Airline in 1999 and have been playing my entire cricket for them," Khurram said.
Khurram works as an Emirates Airline flight purse, spends time with his wife and two sons in Dubai, but still manages to find time to play cricket most days.
"I don't know at what age I started playing cricket but it was a daily routine in the back garden and parks, like most kids growing up in the subcontinent," he said.
"I didn't play hard-ball until I entered university and that's because our parents insisted studies had to come first. But there wasn't a day where we didn't find time to play cricket."
Khurram made his debut for the UAE in the ICC Trophy in Canada in 2001 after qualifying for the Emirates thanks to the four-year residency rule. He topped both the batting averages and bowling averages for the UAE in the tournament with 60.75 (243 runs in eight innings) and 13.52 (19 wickets from 95 overs).
Yet they finished fifth and failed to qualify for the 2003 World Cup, which Khurram says was one of his low points in cricket. "[But] we have had a lot of success since then, winning the ACC Elite trophy five times and also playing in the 2004 Asia Cup," he said.
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE