x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Short fuse, but Ali has huge heart

The UAE all-rounder's temperament may be in question; his talent and dedication to the team, however, is not.

Saqib Ali, the all-rounder, will be in the first UAE squad to tour Bermuda.
Saqib Ali, the all-rounder, will be in the first UAE squad to tour Bermuda.

Saqib Ali grimaced in agony. He was sprawled on the turf at Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi having injured a hamstring while fielding against Kenya in the Twenty20 World Cup qualifier in February. His place in the UAE national side for the remainder of the competition was in doubt. Chitrala Sudhaker, the team's trainer-physiotherapist, initially believed Saqib would be out for at least two weeks.

Not Saqib. He underwent six hours of intense therapy that night and was back the following day to lead the UAE to victory over Canada and to the top of their group. "I worked on him from six that evening up to midnight," Sudhaker says. "He was willing to undergo all that agony to play the next day, and I realised how strong he was mentally." Now his Emirates teammates will need to show the same steely determination when they travel to Bermuda tomorrow for their final group game of the ICC Intercontinental Shield.

"We need to win this game outright to have a chance to play in the final," Saqib says. "It is our first tour to Bermuda and we don't know what type of pitches to expect, but we have a good team to achieve a winning result." Saqib is considered the best player on the national team, and also the most intense. The 32-year-old Pakistani, who has been with the team for more than four years, is known for his short temper. He will often yell at his teammates during games for errors or lapses in concentration.

Last year, he was banned by the Abu Dhabi Cricket Council (ADCC) after losing his temper in a domestic match and throwing a bail at one of the umpires. In 2007, he lost the captaincy of the national side because of his short fuse. But those who know him defend his ferocity. "Saqib's fury on a fellow player must be taken positively," Sudhaker says. "He sets high standards on the field and he expects others to do the same.

"And in this part of the world, as amateur cricketers, most of the players think of only batting and bowling, and less effort on fielding. There should be someone like Saqib to get tough on them." For all of Saqib's toughness on the pitch, the trainer says, he is one of the friendliest players off it. "In contrast to his aggressive on-field conduct, I always find him helping the youngsters in the team," Sudhaker says.

Saqib says he does not understand why people criticise his on-field demeanour. "I am only trying to get the best for the team," he says. "I am not so unreasonable, I only yell at them when they repeat the same mistakes and I don't think that is offensive. "I play my cricket hard and fair, and I want my teammates to give 100 per cent. If I do a mistake, I will take the blame and take any abuse that will be directed at me without any complaint."

Saqib's one-year bail-throwing ban last June was halved after he expressed regret and he was allowed to return to the national squad for the tour of Namibia in December. "As a cricketer, we have a lot of admiration for him," Inam ul Haq, the general secretary of ADCC, says. "He has positive approach, which is good, but he can't get away unpunished for poor conduct on the field." As a teenager, Saqib toured New Zealand with the Pakistan Under 19 squad and was a prolific scorer for Multan, his state team. But after being overlooked by the Pakistan national selectors, he moved to Abu Dhabi in 1997.

He was hired by the New Medical Centre Group (NMC), where he works as a storekeeper and plays for their cricket team in Division One domestic competitions. It was ul Haq who had introduced Saqib to BR Shetty, the vice-chairman and managing director of the NMC Group and a former president of the ADCC. "Saqib comes from a humble background," ul Haq says. "He was introduced to me by one of my former colleagues [who] spoke very high of Saqib and requested me to find employment in the UAE.

"Saqib gets emotional and can easily get carried away. That's one of his weaknesses. But he is a wonderful human being. He is honest and hard working, and more importantly a team-man. He will never let down his team or a colleague." Saqib has remained with the NMC since arriving in the UAE. "He has been one of the pillars behind NMC's success in cricket and he has been a prolific all-rounder for the team," Sandeep Dhuri, a former Ranji Trophy player in India and captain of the NMC, says. "He has won several matches single-handedly for us. He sets a very high standard on the field and expects all others to be the same, which I feel is not fair, because others are not of his own level."