Ghulam Shabber could be key to unlocking UAE's batting potential on their tour of Zimbabwe
In absence of injured Rameez Shahzad, wicketkeeper capable of scoring big – as he did against United States recently
The UAE have had a muddled build up to their first ever bilateral one-day international series against a Test-playing nation. Looked at exclusively on results, the 2018/19 season is probably one they would like to forget.
It started with a painful missed qualification for their home Asia Cup. It got worse when a similar result in the Emerging Teams Asia Cup in Pakistan subsequently saw three senior players banned for venting their frustrations on Twitter.
Home limited-overs series against Nepal were lost. Even on their preparatory tour of Oman, before heading on to Harare for the four ODIs against Zimbabwe, which start on Wednesday, they won one, lost one.
To add injury to insult, Rameez Shahzad is again absent from the squad, meaning he will have missed all seven ODIs the side have played this season.
Rameez, who is the only UAE cricketer to have scored two ODI centuries, which includes one in Harare against West Indies last year, has failed to recover from a finger injury he suffered last month.
And yet, despite the drawbacks, there are reasons for optimism. The indifferent form has been brought about by misfiring batting – not aided by Rameez’s extended absence.
If the batsmen need a template for how to score big runs, though, it was provided two weeks ago when Ghulam Shabber hit 136 in a 50-over match against United States at The Sevens, Dubai.
It was not the highest score ever made by a UAE batsman, but it was certainly the most substantial of recent times. Not least for the batsman himself, who has been a central figure of the side for the past two years, but had yet to make a century.
“Some of my teammates joke with me when I get 30s and 40s, saying that I should be getting big scores,” Shabber said.
“The first 30 are difficult to score, but after that it should get easier. In the next match [after the century] I got out in the 30s again and I was extremely disappointed because I thought I could make another century.
“Now, after making that 136, my thinking has changed. Now I am even more hungry for runs. I want to be a match-winner. I am thinking about big scores.”
As a left-handed wicketkeeper-batsman who bats in the top three, Shabber had some obvious role models while growing up in his home city of Jhang, near Faisalabad in Pakistan.
Adam Gilchrist was one he liked, while he even had “Sangakkara” – in homage to the Sri Lankan gloveman – written on the 125cc motorbike he drove to matches when making his way in the game.
“When we grow up, and are 18 or 19, it is ideal to take a bike and roam around the city that way,” Shabber said.
“For inter-district and Grade 2 games I used to drive to matches on my motorbike, carrying the kit bag on the back. That is a common thing in Pakistan.”
He played Quaid-e-Azam Trophy cricket, Pakistan’s first-class competition, but a lack of opportunities – he played just three times despite being part of the Faisalabad squad for eight years – led him to try his luck elsewhere.
“I was in the squad, but was only on the bench for all that time,” Shabber said.
“That is normal if you are from the small cities. It means you don’t get a chance. That was frustrating.
“My friend called me here, and I joined Seven Seas to work and play cricket. I quit playing in Pakistan, came here, and as soon as I did, I always had in mind that I wanted to play for UAE.”
Dougie Brown, the UAE coach, hopes the rest of the batting line up can follow the example Shabber set against USA, when they take on Zimbabwe at Harare Sports Club.
“Scoring hundreds is a bit like a formula,” Brown said. “Sometimes the formula is hard to understand, but once you do it once, you start to think, ‘Well, actually that was quite easy’.
“You can go through the same process the next time you get yourself in.
“He played a great innings [against USA]. It goes to show that if you do have someone who can go on and post a big score like that, there are very few games you are going to lose.
“Having two all-rounders with Rohan [Mustafa] and Ghulam batting at No 1 and No 3 gives us a chance to play an extra batsman, which a lot of sides wouldn’t do.
“That gives us depth to our batting, particularly going to play against a Full Member, who have experience of playing against all the big teams in the world.”
Updated: April 8, 2019 12:14 PM