Vishal Salmani
Vishal Salmani with Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: He was ten years old, when Vishal Salmani first visited his father’s salon in a neighbourhood called Sagarpur, in the Indian capital of Delhi. Though he belonged to a family of hairdressers – he never aimed to become one. He had another dream.

“I love cricket and always wanted to grow up to be a cricketer,” the now 30-year-old Indian expatriate in Dubai, told Gulf News in an exclusive interview.

Salmani who lived in Bijnor, Jalalabad, till the age of eight, before moving to Delhi, used to play and watch cricket, devotedly, in the hopes of becoming a cricketer.

But, destiny had planned it differently for Salmani. At the age of 17, his family sent him to Kashmir to stay with his uncle to learn hairdressing. He returned to Delhi a few weeks later, eventually joining his dad to work as a hairstylist.

Three years later, in 2013, Salmani moved to the UAE.

“I was around 20 years old when I came to Dubai. I joined a hair salon, it was the job I knew. I was the first from the family to move to a different country, so I told myself that I had to do something bigger and started dreaming of opening my own salon someday,” he said.

Salmani owns a busy men’s salon in Dubai’s Oud Metha neighbourhood.
Salmani owns a busy men’s salon in Dubai’s Oud Metha neighbourhood. Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

Fast forward nine years, to today, Salmani owns a busy men’s salon in Dubai’s Oud Metha neighbourhood.

Call it manifestation or fate, cricket did become a huge part of Salmani’s life. His clientele include the likes of cricket A-listers like Virat Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, when they visit the UAE and need a hairstylist.

Journey to styling cricket stars

“Irfan Pathan was the first [celebrity cricketer] I met. I think this was in 2017, followed by Kedar Jadhav. Then I met Indian leg spinner Amit Mishra. I got a chance to meet these cricketers through a friend who was my client at a salon where I was working,” he said.

Meanwhile, Salmani was being diligent with his salary and client's tips. He was saving up money to open his own salon. Misfortune struck, only for him to lose all the money.

“I got scammed and lost the money I had been saving up. But, thankfully, a client-turned-friend, Syed Arif, helped me open a salon.”

With loans and borrowed money, in 2021, Salmani finally opened his salon.

A turning point was also right around the corner for the young hairdresser.

“A few months later, one of my clients mentioned an opportunity – the Chennai Super Kings team needed a hairstylist, when they were in Dubai in 2021 for the Indian Premier League (IPL). They wanted someone who had already styled a celebrity. I sent my portfolio, showcasing the two cricketers including Irfan Pathan, and a few visiting Punjabi singers, whom I had styled by then.

“The approval took a couple of days. I learnt later on from Irfan Pathan that they had called him to verify if my work was okay. Then, I got selected. I went to work for the IPL, we lived in a bubble along with the players – restricted to one hotel, for a span of two months.”

Salman styled players from the Chennai Super Kings team. “Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Dwayne John Bravo, Suresh Raina, Ambati Thirupathi Rayudu, Cheteshwar Pujara, Mitchell Josef Santner, Robin Uthappa, Faf Du Plessis, Josh Hazlewood, Moeen Ali, I was the hairstylist for the entire team for two months,” he said.

A huge fan of Dhoni, Salmani recalled his first interaction with the cricketer, with child-like excitement.

Salmani shows the photos of cricketers displayed in his salon.
Salmani shows the photos of cricketers displayed in his salon. Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

“When it was time for his appointment, and his manager said: ‘MS Dhoni is about to enter.’ I was nervous. I began wondering how I would style his hair. I am a super fan and when he entered the room for the first time I was completely emotional and lost for words. He came and sat, and said he needs a haircut.

“I felt like my hands were frozen. I was shivering. He came and sat, I really liked that he was relaxed. I asked him how he wants me to style his hair, and he said ‘Just style it the way you want.’ I told him I was nervous as it was my first time styling a legend like him.”

Salmani explained that the former Indian cricket team captain said there was no need to be nervous. “His reassurance gave me confidence, and I styled his hair and beard. He liked it and started coming to me every week. It was the best moment of my life….”

. Signed cricket merchandise like jerseys and caps are displayed like trophies around the shop.
Signed cricket merchandise like jerseys and caps are displayed like trophies around the shop.

Right after the IPL, the cricket World Cup was also scheduled to take place in Dubai – another stroke of luck for Salmani.

“The players were staying at the same hotel. I got the contract to style the Indian team as well. And, MS Dhoni suggested my name to the England team, too. So, I got the contract for both teams.”

He shared another dear memory, during the World Cup: “The first player to message me [during the World Cup] was Virat Kohli. I got so emotional, I played cricket since childhood. I thought someone was pranking me, for some time I could not believe it. Then KL Rahul messaged me. Slowly I got to meet all the players..

Salmani went on to style Jasprit Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja, Suryakumar Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Rohit Sharma, Ishan Kishan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shreyas Iyer, Harshal Patel, and Ruturaj Gaikwad.

The walls of Salmani’s salon now display hundreds of photos with cricketers and influencers. Signed cricket merchandise like jerseys and caps are displayed like trophies around the shop.

Photos with celebrity cricketers displayed at Salmani's salon.
Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

He along with his staff keep a busy roster, some of his clients travel all the way from Abu Dhabi to Oud Metha, just for a haircut. Many cricketers who regularly visit the UAE, continue to reach out to Salmani during their visit.

“In this business, once someone gets their hair styled by you and they like it, they will keep coming back to you. Some of my clients come to me all the way from Abu Dhabi. People I styled for eight or nine years, they still return to my salon from Jumeirah and Abu Dhabi and far places, because they trust me with their hair. Honest, is very important in this business.”

Though his childhood dream still remains, Salmani is happy with how far he has come: “I couldn’t become a cricketer but I am very happy with what I became. I want to establish a brand someday. Dubai helped me reach quite far, there’s still a long way to go.”