Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 2 June 2020

Mohammed Ayaz left to stew through coronavirus lockdown after disappointing UAE return

Fast bowler keen to repay faith of captain Raza after his poor showing against Saudi Arabia in Oman

Few of the UAE national team’s cricketers have had much to stew on during lockdown.

Their last assignment before sport was suspended because of the pandemic went as well as could be expected.

They won every match of the first round of Asia Cup qualifying in Muscat in February, razed Kuwait in the final, and most had the chance to buff their averages.

All except for Mohammed Ayaz. No-one else on tour in Oman had awaited that series with such anticipation as the left-arm quick bowler.

He was, after all, set to make his full international debut four years after injury had curtailed his first shot at it.

Back in 2015, he had dismissed Eoin Morgan in a T20 friendly against England.

He seemed set for a long run in the squad, only for injury to keep him out of the side until the start of this year.

A first T20 international against Saudi Arabia in a low-key competition should have been a soft opener for someone who had reached the top of domestic cricket in Pakistan before starting a new life in Dubai.

Instead, it was a nightmare, as the unheralded Saudi batsmen swished away freely. Ayaz ended with two overs, no wicket for 25.

“I have enough experience, and it wasn’t down to nervousness,” Ayaz, 32, said. “There is not much club cricket now in UAE, and I had not played that many matches, so coming back after four years, it is a big gap.

“The conditions and the batters did not make it that difficult to bowl, but I was missing that spark.

“When the batsman hit me for two fours, obviously it was frustrating, and it meant I tried to bowl quicker and I was not using my bowling weapons.

“I have a quick bouncer I can bowl to any batsman at any time, and I did not try that.

“I was really disappointed, as that was not the level I wanted to play at.

“If I was coming back, I wanted to do well. I wanted to perform and contribute to wins for my team.”

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Paul Radley: Sport. Mohammed Ayaz made his debut for UAE in February, three years after suffering an injury when it first looked as though he'd get in the team. Now the coronavirus has stopped his second crack and cementing a place in the team. Thursday, May 21st, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Mohammed Ayaz made his debut for UAE in February. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Luckily for Ayaz, his teammates know better than to write him off on the back of his nervy start.

One of them in particular is well aware of his merit.

“I had a talk with Ahmed later,” Ayaz said of the UAE captain Ahmed Raza, who had been his club-mate with UBL in the past.

“We reached the hotel. I told him I wasn’t pressurised, but at the same time I was wondering what had happened.

“I had felt strange in the field, and that had never happened before with me.

“Ahmed just said: ‘You are coming back after three or four years, and whatever the opposition are like, this is your first T20 international game. It is OK’.

“He reminded me about when I first came to UAE and we were playing together for UBL, and my first match was like this.

“Whoever was coming in, they were hitting and I was getting frustrated. And I had played first-class cricket in Pakistan before, represented the state team.

“These people don’t know how to play proper cricket, yet they were still hitting fours and sixes.

“It is the pressure you feel when you are coming into a new team, no matter who you are playing for.

“Ahmed said that it would be fine, and to just focus on the next couple of games. It is nice to have a captain like Ahmed.”

Ayaz has not had the chance either to show his worth or repay the faith of his captain since.

Two UAE tours – to United States and Papua New Guinea – have so far been cancelled because of the pandemic, while that Asia Cup qualifying campaign might even have been in vain, too.

Instead, he has been focused on his day job as a web design and digital marketing consultant, while fitting in as much fitness training as the lockdown restrictions have permitted.

“I got my chance, and now I thought I could show my skills and potential, and show what I could do for the national team,” Ayaz said.

“Then all of a sudden, there were so many tours [on the schedule]. It has been frustrating, but what can we do?

“It is a natural thing, we can’t do anything about it but wait and try to keep ourselves fit.

“Whenever training starts again, we have to be fit if we want to compete at that level.”

Updated: May 23, 2020 11:38 AM

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