x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

UAE sport benefits from Reyal family fortunes

Shaheer, Adil and Imad are originally from Sri Lanka, but having been brought up in the UAE, they aspire to represent their country of residence, writes Paul Radley.

Imad Reyal, right, an Abu Dhabi Harlequins player, hopes to make an impression in Australia. Jaime Puebla / The National
Imad Reyal, right, an Abu Dhabi Harlequins player, hopes to make an impression in Australia. Jaime Puebla / The National

There was a time, not long ago, when UAE sport was thanking extreme good fortune for stumbling across one highly gifted sportsman named Reyal.

Now the country's sporting landscape is threatening to be overrun by the talented Sri Lankan siblings after the elevation of Adil Reyal to the ranks of the national cricket team.

The 22-year-old all-rounder made his debut for the UAE cricket team in a Twenty20 international against Ireland last week, and is part of the squad currently vying for the ACC Twenty20 Cup in Nepal.

In so doing he has become the third Reyal brother to represent the country in international sport.

His eldest brother Shaheer – who is also targeting selection for the national cricket team – played for UAE rugby union side in the Asian Sevens Series last year.

The third brother, Imad, who is exactly a year, a month and a week younger than Adil, is one of the stars of UAE rugby union and, availability permitting, a mainstay of the national team.

Such was the sparkling impact Imad made on his initial elevation to the rugby team ahead of the 2011 Dubai Sevens, the game's bosses here would have been happy to clone him. Now they have done the next best thing, and they are divvying up the brothers between the sports, too.

Humaid, 18, the fourth brother off the Reyal production line, is "only a fan" rather than a player, according to his elder siblings.

However, given the amount of talent floating around his gene pool, maybe Mahdi Ali, the national football coach, will see about finding him a UAE passport and coaxing him on to the football field next.

"We are all proud to have been able to represent the UAE," said Shaheer, 26, an Emirates Airline employee who also plays for his staff rugby and cricket teams.

"I would like to give a shot at representing the UAE at cricket as well. I am a decent age for this and I hope I can make it in the next two to three years if I keep performing well."

The impact of the Reyals has been a boon for this country's sport, but they rank as three that got away for Sri Lanka. Their father has lived in Dubai for 32 years, the last 28 of which have been as an employee of Emirates Airline.

Shaheer played fly-half for Sri Lanka's Under 18 rugby team and Adil played against Bangladesh for the island national Under 19 cricket team.

Imad, who was a renowned schoolboy rugby player in their native hill town of Kandy, would surely have been a valued member of the country's rugby team now, had he not fixed his allegiance to his adopted country.

He never forgot home, though. When he scored a scintillating try on his Dubai Sevens debut for UAE in 2011, he mimed the letters S and L with his hands in homage to his homeland.

He is still miffed that he got the S the wrong way round.

"When I was growing up I always wanted to play for the Arabian Gulf [the collective side which represented the region before the UAE Rugby Federation was formed] at rugby," said Imad, the Abu Dhabi Harlequins full-back.

"I always told my dad I wanted to play for the Gulf because he was here. I had seen that they had gone down to Australia and toured the Gold Coast and they were getting so many opportunities.

"I didn't even know I was eligible to play, to be honest. Then I found out you only have to be here for three years to play for UAE.

"Then Wayne [Marsters, the UAE rugby manager] came and spoke to me and invited me for training. That's how I got in."

Imad's advance from social rugby to the international game has been rapid, and his domestic club coach believes he should not stop there.

He hopes to move to Australia to study and Chris Davies, the director of rugby at Harlequins, thinks the speedy full-back would be a good acquisition for any leading club.

"I feel he could certainly play semi-professionally but he needs to be challenged and experience different rugby cultures," Davies said.

The idea of chancing upon international sport is a theme among these understated brothers.

Shaheer was picked for the UAE sevens team after following his brother to training solely with the intention of getting fit.

Adil, it seems, was equally unaware of how highly valued his talents were, given that he only found out he had been selected to play for the national cricket team while browsing the internet.

"Last month I was on the computer looking at cricketlovers.com and saw my name was in the squad they announced," the left-arm spinner said before leaving for Kathmandu with the national team this week.

"That felt pretty good. It seems like the squad who are touring are mostly young guys."

Although he might not have had feedback to that effect as yet, Adil is seen as having a bright future in UAE cricket, particularly because of his dexterity as a fieldsman.

"We need to change the face of UAE cricket," said Aaqib Javed, the national cricket coach. "When it comes to cricket here people have always thought they are skilful but physically fit or challenging in the field.

"I wanted to change the face of the game here and have a side who are sharp and physically fit. I have been really impressed by Adil Reyal's fielding. He is so quick."

pradley@thenational.ae

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