Ahead of some crucial fixtures in Namibia, as the Emirates bid to qualify for the Cricket World Cup, one batsman is looking to make a big impact - like the former captain
UAE batsman Rameez Shahzad determined to fill his hero Khurram Khan's shoes
Given the profile of the national team, it is rare for aspiring players to pick UAE players out as their heroes.
UAE cricketers rarely get the chance to play on television. It stands to reason children growing up here would plump for more visible figures like Virat Kohli or Steve Smith, for instance, to try to imitate.
So when Rameez Shahzad reiterated last month that he wants to be the new Khurram Khan, it spoke of a variety of things.
Firstly, it showed he has a keen sense of belonging to the UAE. Khurram, who retired in 2015, enjoyed one of the most successful careers of any cricketer beyond the Test game, in more than a decade with the national team.
Secondly, Rameez has just turned 30. Given that he first played internationally for UAE 13 years ago, he might well have established a name for himself by now.
Yet he is still trying to make up for the lost years – nearly 10 of them – when he left the country to play and study in the UK, spent too long away, became ineligible, then had to try to re-qualify on residency grounds.
Only now is he really providing the weight of performances his talent merits. Last time out, he scored 121 not out to marshal a brilliant run-chase in a one-day international against Scotland.
It was the second-highest score by a UAE player in ODIs, behind Khurram’s 132 not out against Afghanistan in 2014. He did it from No 4 in the order, the position his role model formerly called his own.
UAE training hard for Namibia tour
So what did the old Khurram Khan think? “I have done with my career, but he is a super-good batsman, and if he is somebody who can be good for the UAE, I am going to be happy,” Khurram said.
“I don’t want UAE to be struggling, playing Division 2 or 3. I want them to be one of the top associate sides, and have one-day international status.
“I would love to see that. He is one that I trust a lot, and Rohan [Mustafa, the UAE captain] as well.
"The talent Rameez has, I don’t think anyone else in the team possesses. If he can break records and go places, I will be very happy.”
Growing up, Rameez was not exactly short of mentors. His father, Shahzad Altaf, had played for the UAE – they remain the only father-son combination to have done so – excelling as a seam bowler at the 1996 World Cup.
After retiring, Altaf became a prolific coach, setting a number of players on the path to international cricket.
Two of his products, left-arm spinner Ahmed Raza and son Rameez, are vital figures in the national team chasing a place at next year’s World Cup in England. The World Cricket League Division 2, which starts in Namibia this week, is the penultimate round of qualifying for that.
“He has been given a chance at No 4 to be a proper batsman, and he is showing he can do it,” Altaf said of the development of Rameez, who was previously often seen as a late middle-order dasher.
“I can’t compare him to Khurram. He has a long way to go and will have to maintain his performances to be in Khurram’s class. Now he has to continue to work hard, listen to his coach, and keep up his performances.”
Khurram, who is now a UAE selector, is happy with how his former protege has progressed, and thinks Rameez could even benefit from a move one place further up the batting order, too.
“His personality has changed completely,” Khurram said of the player he first captained as a teenager in 2005. “He is no more a shy lad. But in terms of cricket talent, it is still the same.
“I remember him scoring a hundred as a young lad against my Emirates airline side, we were a very strong team, and it was a brilliant hundred.
“At 18 or 19, he was clearing the boundary at Sharjah Stadium. I saw him do that on the pavilion side three times in one over. He was a super talent.
“When you bat at 5 or 6, the match is on your shoulders, everybody is out already, and you cannot bat to your potential. When you bat at 3, you have the whole match in front of you. You can guide it in any direction you want.”