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Matiullah Khan celebrates a wicket for Abu Dhabi Knight Riders during the ILT20 earlier this year. The pacer's toil has borne fruitition now. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Matiullah Khan dreamt of being a cricketer since his childhood and made use of every opportunity that came his way as a youngster. But things didn’t go according to the plan in Matiullah’s later life. Chasing his cricketing dream became increasingly difficult, given the financial difficulties his family faced back home in Bannu, a city near Pakistan’s border of Afghanistan.

“It becomes hard when your family is going through a tough time, particularly when there is no money coming in,” the 30-year-old Matiullah told Gulf News.

Looking for greener pastures

The struggle forced Matiullah, who was 16 then, to look for greener opportunities and come to the UAE when his brother-in-law offered to help him with a job. “Things weren’t easy once I arrived here. I was not getting a job and I couldn’t even play cricket since I knew no one here. But I kept playing in the backyard, bowling at the walls all by myself,” he said.

After the initial few years of struggle, Matiullah finally managed to get his driving licence and soon after landed a job with a transport company that involved driving heavy trucks. “I used to stay in Fujairah then and my work involved driving to Al Ruwais regularly. The commute would take somewhere around seven to eight hours. But despite this, I used to somehow make time to not lose touch with cricket,” he added.

Promotion to sales section

A while later Matiullah got promoted to the sales section at his company where he was given smaller trucks to drive, with his work largely based in Sharjah. “Whenever I used to get some free time I used to go to Skyline University, where I saw Shahzad Altaf (former UAE cricketer) and offered to bowl. He was impressed with my bowling and asked me to come regularly.

“But you know the company doesn’t look into these. For them the work has to be completed and the Dh1,500 salary was very important for me and my family back home. There are days when I used to be bowling at the nets in Skyline and I had to leave it half way and rush to work whenever I got a call.

“Then sometime in 2014, I managed to attend a talent hunt programme for bowlers where then UAE coach Aaqib Javed was impressed with my pace and asked me to come and practice regularly at the camp.”

Returning to Pakistan

But before he could plan anything further, his company fired him. “I think they understood that I was moving slowly towards cricket,” he added.

The job loss forced Matiullah to return to Pakistan where he used his free time to play a few second division leagues. But as luck would have it, he returned to the UAE after he got an offer from a gas company. “It was a tough job since I had to work long hours and also lift gas cylinders regularly. My responsibilities also soon went up when my sister’s husband passed away.

“But the good news was this company had a small cricket team of its own and when I put in a request to play for them they allowed me to be part of it, but also warned me not to compromise on my work.

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Matiullah cherishes his friendship with international stars like Sunil Narine, Andre Russell and Ravi Rampaul. Image Credit: Supplied

“I was thrilled at getting back to playing cricket. It was a tough phase for me when I was working in RAK. I had to get up early, go to the training in Dubai and then return to RAK to get back to work. During this time, my family and friends used to tell me I was wasting time playing cricket and should instead focus on my work. But my brother and sister backed me, so that was a relief.

Impressive performances

“During this time our team had come to ICC Academy for training and that’s when Javed offered me a chance to bowl at the UAE team camp. Both Javed and Mudassar Nazar (UAE interim coach) were impressed with my bowling and asked me to come regularly.

Matiullah’s luck to enter the big league in cricket finally came when he got a call from New York Strikers to play in the Abu Dhabi T10 tournament. “This tournament turned my fortunes. I managed to impress during this tournament. Later, I got to play the International League T20 with the Abu Dhabi Knight Riders team, when again I had some impressive performances.

Seeking guidance

“I shared the dressing room with big stars including Andre Russell, Sunil Narine and Ravi Rampaul, who are still my good friends and keep guiding me whenever I seek guidance.”

Matiullah’s big moment finally came early this year when he was selected for the UAE team to play in the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier playoff against USA. “It was a memorable day. I will cherish that day all my life when I received my first UAE cap,” said the UAE fast bowler, who picked up one wicket on his debut match. “I’m training hard and completely focused on cricket now. It’s my full time job and I’m so happy now,” said Matiullah, who is now in reserve of the UAE national team currently playing at the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe.