Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Ahmed Raza: the UAE spinner helping Steve Smith and Australia in their Ashes victory bid

The Sharjah-born left-armer on bowling at the man who took apart England at Edgbaston and working with Nathan Lyon

UAE spinner Ahmed Raza has been bowling to Steve Smith and the rest of the Australia team ahead of the second Test at Lord's. Image courtesy of Cricket Australia
UAE spinner Ahmed Raza has been bowling to Steve Smith and the rest of the Australia team ahead of the second Test at Lord's. Image courtesy of Cricket Australia

If left-arm spin is supposed to be Achilles heel of Steve Smith, then England might want to heed a word of warning from the UAE international tasked with bowling exactly that to him for three days this week.

Ahmed Raza, the Sharjah-born left-armer, has been training with Australia in the lead up to the second Ashes Test at Lord’s.

He forged a connection with them when he was asked to provide spin bowling practice for them when they faced Pakistan in two series in UAE last winter.

Australia's Steve Smith hit hundreds in both innings of the first Ashes Test against England at Edgbaston. PA Photo
Australia's Steve Smith hit hundreds in both innings of the first Ashes Test against England at Edgbaston. PA Photo

Raza headed to the UK for a holiday immediately after the national team’s 4-0 clean sweep of Netherlands in a Twenty20 international series last week.

When he got there, he jumped at the chance to reunite with the touring team at the Home of Cricket.

Australia were keen to welcome him back into the fold, too, given the relevance of his specific area of expertise.

Since their crushing defeat in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston, England have replaced the misfiring off-spin of Moeen Ali with left-arm orthodox bowler Jack Leach.

Ahmed Raza, left, takes a selfie with the other national team captains in front of the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Courtesy ICC
Ahmed Raza, left, takes a selfie with the other national team captains in front of the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Courtesy ICC

The decision was presumably driven mainly by Moeen’s meagre form. But much has been made since of the fact Smith, the master batsman who was England’s tormentor in chief in the opening Test, has a less than formidable record against slow-left armers.

Raza has a word of caution based on his experiences this week, though: it is not exactly easy, even for lefties.

“Steve Smith is such a great player, I’ve hardly seen a ball go past him when he’s been batting in the nets,” Raza said.

“The pitches that are prepared here are slow and do turn, so maybe once in the whole day you might get the better of him.

“He is the toughest bloke to bowl at because he has such quick hands and he picks the length very early.”

Raza said he had the chance to pick Smith’s brain after the net session on Monday, and is grateful for all the wisdom that has come his way from the Australian players.

“Even when we trained with the Aussies in Dubai, I couldn’t tell who was supposed to be helping whom, because I was getting so much out of it,” the 30-year-old bowler said.

“Getting to work with Nathan Lyon again is great, too. He loves bowling and he loves talking cricket.

“He was telling me what lines to bowl at certain batters, and tiny little things like that really register in your brain.

“When you are representing your country, these things come back to you, and you try to do better.”

As a UAE international for well over a decade, Raza is well used to playing at venues of the highest standard.

He says, though, this week at Lord’s has been a different level of experience.

“Being in the Lord’s dressing room is liked a dream come true,” he said.

“Walking across the ground to the Nursery, its a dream for any cricketer to be there. I’ve been lucky everything has panned out so well for me.”

Updated: October 13, 2019 09:45 AM

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