x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

UAE-raised cricketer Rameez Shahzad on career's crossroad

Having returned from UK, the Pakistani is back and eyeing a return to the UAE national team.

Rameez Shahzad honed his skills as an all-rounder in his four years in England while managing his studies. Courtesy Shahzad Altaf
Rameez Shahzad honed his skills as an all-rounder in his four years in England while managing his studies. Courtesy Shahzad Altaf

One of the finest products of junior cricket in this country will continue his bid to revive his international career for the UAE this afternoon when he returns to the crease in the Bukhatir League.

Rameez Shahzad, a 25-year-old all-rounder, has been conspicuous by his absence over the past four years, having previously established himself as a mainstay of the national team.

The Sharjah-raised cricketer was one of the brightest prospects in an otherwise ageing UAE side back then.

However, he then left the country in 2008 to marry studying for a business degree at university with an attempt to forge a professional career in the sport in the UK.

He believes he has returned a far better player - "the cricket in England was excellent" - and he hopes to be able to assist with the challenges of a busy near future for the national team.

"I would love to play for UAE again, but I have to see how it goes in terms of whether I will qualify or not," Shahzad said.

The Emirates Cricket Board have already signalled their intention to reintegrate their former middle-order batsmen into the senior ranks.

However, they need to investigate whether the Pakistan-born player's long absence abroad will preclude him from returning straight away to the international fold, as per the ICC's eligibility rules.

And if he is sidelined by the residency criteria, it will not be the first time he has felt like an outsider.

Shahzad had been pursuing a contract to play county cricket while in the UK. However, despite shining as an overseas player in domestic club cricket, he believes he represented an unattractive proposition for professional clubs there as he did not possess a British passport.

He has not entirely given up on the idea of playing the sport professionally, though. If he rediscovers his touch here in UAE domestic cricket, he is considering travelling to Pakistan to attempt to play professionally there later this year.

And he insists he is a more rounded player for leaving these shores.

"In Dubai, even if I don't practice for a month, I could still go out and score a hundred," he said. "In the UK, if you don't practice, it is very difficult.

"I don't think that in terms of talent there is much difference between the game that's played in England and that in Dubai.

"There are lots of talented players here who would really develop their cricket if they had the chance to play there.

"But people here have families back at home, and they have to take care of them."

Shahzad's return has coincided with a concerted push to harness the emerging talent in this country.

Following a meeting with David East, the new chief executive of the Emirates Cricket Board, last week, Aaqib Javed, the head coach of the national team, yesterday confirmed his plans for a new nationwide "talent hunt".

Shahzad has been back in the country for around a month, during which time he has managed to play two Twenty20 matches, plus one 50 over A Division match for his new employers, United Bank Limited.

This afternoon they face Farooq CC in the Bukhatir League, the country's oldest - and still its most prestigious - competition, and his new teammates are happy to have him involved.

"It is brilliant to have Rameez back," said Naeemuddin Aslam, his UBL teammate and another player who is hoping to catch the UAE selectors' eye with his batting after a lengthy lay off through injury.

"It only seems like a couple of years maximum since he has been gone - not four.

"It is good to have him in our team because he is only a young lad, he has played a good level of cricket in the UK, and every time he goes out to bat it shows."

pradley@thenational.ae

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