He may not have same level of celebrity as Afghanistan's Rashid Khan or Nepal's Sandeep Lamichhane, but Haider has often played a key role for Emirates, and he will be called upon to do same over next few weeks in Zimbabwe
World Cup Qualifier 2018: Spinner Imran Haider important cog in UAE cricket's wheel
Rashid Khan’s startling rise from the unforgiving climes of Afghan domestic cricket to the summit of the game is an inspiration to many.
His talent was forged far beyond the mainstream. So his appearance at the top of international cricket’s limited-overs rankings, as well as in all the big Twenty20 leagues around the globe, should give players of any background reason to believe.
And he is not the only one.
Nepal’s Sandeep Lamichhane is another leg-spinner heading to the big show, having been snapped up by Delhi Daredevils to play at the Indian Premier League in April. Not bad for a 17-year-old kid from a country whose cricket administration is two years into an ongoing suspension from the ICC.
Imran Haider might not have quite the celebrity of Rashid or Lamichhane. The UAE are happy to have him, though. Leg-spin is a much-coveted resource in limited-overs cricket, and the national team know they have a richly-talented one in their ranks.
“People don't always play spin so well nowadays, and there are some outstanding spinners in the competition, like Rashid Khan,” Haider, 30, said ahead of the start of the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe.
“He is a world-class spinner, he has so much natural talent. I’ll try to give my best, as I did taking wickets at important stages of the games in Namibia [in last month’s World Cricket League Division 2, which UAE won] and before.
“It would be great if I took most wickets and could compete with the other good spinners, but our bowling is very good.
“Some teams have just one or two good bowlers, so I'm only concentrating on playing my part well.”
Born in Lahore, Haider first harboured dreams of playing international cricket in the green of Pakistan.
Based partly on his cricket ability, he earned admission to the prestigious Government College University in Lahore to study computer science. Ironically, it was his cricket that subsequently meant he was unable to complete that course, too.
The level of competition for places in the first-class game in Lahore meant he opted to forego his studies to pursue the game instead. He made the city’s Quaid-e-Azam Trophy team, took six wickets in an innings in the second match of his debut season – then did not feature again for two years.
The lack of opportunities led him to the UAE, where he dovetailed playing cricket for Multiplex with a job in the company’s sales department.
“I came UAE to play cricket at international level, and I have no regrets or complaints,” Haider said. “If I had got the chances in first-class cricket properly, I might not have left Pakistan as my dream was to play. Still, I'm hoping to play [Pakistan Super League] one day.”
The lowdown: UAE team at World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe
After impressing on the UAE domestic circuit, Haider was given the chance to represent the national team in a T20 practice match against the touring England side.
He dismissed Moeen Ali and Sam Billings and has been a fixture in the UAE squad ever since, becoming one of the first batch of centrally contracted professional players in 2016.
His place in the side is usually dependent on whether or not conditions dictate they play an extra seam bowler. When he is called on, however, he often has a key role to play. Like when he took three wickets to turn a nerve-shredding group game against Oman in the UAE’s favour in Namibia.
He also had the chance to rub shoulders with some of international cricket’s leading players when he was part of the Kerala Kings squad which won the T10 League in Sharjah in December.
At the end of that tournament, Virender Sehwag, the lone Indian player involved, said he had spied some potential untapped talent among the Afghan and UAE players that would be of interest to IPL franchises.
“Our coach, [former India player] Robin Singh, was very much interested and impressed with me, and asked about my passport for IPL,” Haider said.
“As a Pakistani passport holder, I would not be allowed to play IPL, so it didn't work out. But I would love to be a part of PSL someday. If we play in the big leagues, we can become better players.”