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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Rising UAE cricket star Qadeer Ahmed grateful for how far he has come

Fast bowler, who discovered hard-ball cricket relatively late in life, has worked hard to become one of country's key players and will be crucial in World Cup qualification campaign

Qadeer Ahmed, seen here in action against Zimbabwe, has realised his dream of playing at the national level. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Qadeer Ahmed, seen here in action against Zimbabwe, has realised his dream of playing at the national level. Chris Whiteoak / The National

If the UAE’s cricketers needed any evidence to believe humble beginnings need not limit their ambitions, they should take a glance at their opposition in Abu Dhabi over the next four days.

Afghanistan will be playing their final ICC Intercontinental Cup match before leaving this all behind and moving on to the Test sphere. Some of their players are already well-remunerated members of the global Twenty20 grand tour.

And their journey started in refugee camps amongst players displaced by war. It has been quite the fairytale.

The UAE cricket story might not be anything like as compelling as the Afghan one, but many of their players have done a decent line in humble starts.

Neither member of their new-ball attack, for example, had even played organised cricket with a leather ball before they moved to the UAE, in adulthood, to work.

Mohammed Naveed recently made it into the top 10 of the ICC’s Twenty20 rankings for bowlers. He was one of the first picks for a US$10,000 (Dh36,700) contract to play in the first T10 Cricket League (TCL) next month, and he hopes to catch the eye of the big leagues when he is there.

Qadeer Ahmed the other pace bowler, was one of the few UAE regulars to miss out on one of those TCL deals, even though he has been becoming increasingly important to the national team since his debut in 2015.

Qadeer Ahmed had the opportunity to train with the Pakistan cricket team. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Qadeer Ahmed had the opportunity to train with the Pakistan cricket team. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Last month he bowled to Pakistan’s national team players at nets during their series against Sri Lanka. Being employed as a net bowler might seem a little beneath a fully-fledged international cricketer – even if it was a chance to test himself against one of the game’s top-ranked sides.

But for Qadeer it was a little reminder of just how far he has come, seeing as that was exactly where he started.

“The strange thing is, I had only played tape-ball cricket,” Qadeer said, recalling his arrival in the UAE in 2011.

“The first time I used a hard ball was to bowl at England in the nets [in Dubai]. I bowled Jonathan Trott, the first time I had used a cricket ball.”

He was talent-spotted while he was bowling at that net session, enrolled in domestic cricket in 2013, and within two years of taking up the game properly, he was in the national team.

Just as Naveed had done before him, Qadeer first arrived in the UAE because of his tape-ball prowess back in Pakistan. He landed a job in the accounts department of a small firm, based largely on the fact he would be playing for the staff street cricket team.

He moved on to a job as the logistics manager of a company who have one of the leading corporate sides in the domestic game, then subsequently gave that up to take up one of the UAE’s first professional central contracts last year.

“The owner brought me here to Dubai to work and play tape-ball cricket in his team,” he said.

“They helped me so much. At first, I told them I don’t have a vehicle and couldn’t travel to play in Abu Dhabi, and Al Dhaid. They were the guys who dropped me off and picked me up.”

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Qadeer has neither the muscular frame, nor the slingy action that usually suggest a method learnt in tape-ball cricket.

Instead, his bowling action is orthodox, and the consistency of his length is what generally impress his coaches most.

“It surprised people,” Qadeer said of his conventional style. “Aaqib-bhai [Aaqib Javed, the former UAE coach who gave him his debut] said I had a proper run up and style, and that he didn’t need to work with me.

“It must be natural, because I never played hard-ball cricket in Pakistan.”

Qadeer and his UAE colleagues are planning for a busy winter that they hope will end up in a push for qualification for the World Cup, at a tournament currently scheduled for Zimbabwe in March.

Where they end up remains to be seen, but whatever happens in the future, Qadeer is grateful for what he already has.

“I’m very thankful to Allah that I am able to play for UAE,” Qadeer said. “I never thought I would be able to play at the national level, even for UAE. It is a big achievement for me, and I am very proud of it.”

ICC Intercontinental Cup

UAE squad Rohan Mustafa (captain), Chirag Suri, Shaiman Anwar, Rameez Shahzad, Mohammed Usman, Adnan Mufti, Saqlain Haider, Ahmed Raza, Mohammed Naveed, Imran Haider, Qadeer Ahmed, Mohammed Boota, Amir Hayat, Ashfaq Ahmed

Fixtures Nov 29-Dec 2

UAE v Afghanistan, Zayed Cricket Stadium, Abu Dhabi

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Ireland v Scotland, Dubai International Stadium

Namibia v Netherlands, ICC Academy, Dubai