UAE team players during a practice match in preparation for the Twenty20 series against Bangladesh at the ICC Cricket Academy Oval on Thursday. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: The UAE cricket team’s open door policy over the last couple of years have given the pathway for many aspiring youths from the junior ranks to realise their dreams of making it to the senior men’s team.

UAE, who are preparing for the Twenty20 World Cup in Australia with two Twenty20 matches against Bangladesh on September 25 and 27, have almost half the team of young turks, who had represented the country in the under-19 World Cup. A welcome change from the past, when budding stars would leave the UAE shores after failing to make the senior grade.

Robin Singh, Director of Cricket, Emirates Cricket Board, in an exclusive chat with Gulf News, said the current management’s talent hunt from within the country has been giving the desire results.

Robin Singh
UAE coach Robin Singh is happy with the progress the selection policy that has brought in numerous young talents. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

“It’s an open door for everyone. In the past these kids never really got the opportunities. I have been focusing on talent that is here apart from those coming from outside as well. The best ones with the right temperament and commitment, more importantly the hunger to play the game, have been roped into the system for the past two years,” Robin said.

“There is a lot of encouragement for them, not only in the UAE teams, but also in the UAE International League Twenty20 coming up, which is a bigger opportunity. We will continue to bring more youngsters into the set-up.”

As many as six youngsters have been selected in the UAE team for the Twenty20 World Cup, that will bring more energy into the team apart from keeping the veterans on their toes. One of the important move towards looking at the future is to elevate 20-year-old Vriitya Aravind to the vice-captain’s role.

Aravind has been having a phenomenal year, where his exploits on the field has resulted in him getting bigger role in the team ranks.

“Not much of a difference now. As a keeper I was a leader of the team anyways, now I have to continue the role officially,” Aravind said nonchalantly, taking the burden with ease.

One of the products that rose from the junior ranks, Aravind feels the clear pathway for the youngsters will act as a big motivation for more to aspire to play for the UAE.

three players
From left: Young UAE players Aayan Khan, Adhitya Shetty and Vriitya Aravind during a practice session. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

“To have home-grown players is a proud thing and very good for UAE as a whole. Four or five years ago, some very good talents would school here and play under-19 and move out for university and they never used to play for UAE Men’s team. Now there is a clear path way to get into the main team. Everyone is joining the universities here after seeing the opportunity to play for the nation,” he added. “It’s a very good sign when the youngsters are pushing the seniors hard, a good competitive team environment.”

The six UAE-grown players in the World Cup squad:

Aayan Khan

Age: 16

Batting: Right hand

Bowling: Left-arm orthodox

“I happy I am selected for the senior. It’s a great feeling. Lot of hardwork has been put in. A special thanks to my dad and mom,” said the teenager who is in Grade 12 at Our Own. The all-rounder said he practiced two hours everyday, between 8-10pm, with 30 minutes of spot bowling and 150 throwdowns.

“My dad throws ‘sidearm’ 150 balls every day,” he said proudly. The teenager focuses on spinning the ball more and believes in attacking the batters to get their wickets. “I bowl with the new ball, so my job is to get early wickets and stop the runs. Playing A division has helped me and now I am confident to bowl to any player,” said the left-arm orthodox spinner.

Aryan Lakra:

Age: 20

Batting: Left-hand opener

Bowling: Left-arm orthodox

Aryan Lakra

The former UAE Under-19 team captain made a massive change to his fitness schedule after getting motivated by the Under-19 World Cup in South Africa 2020 and that has helped him a great deal when he made the senior grade.

“I had to push myself hard after realising what it takes to be at that level. I really worked on my fitness after qualifying for the Under-19 World Cup. Between April and January, before the World Cup, I cut down about 15 kilos in three months’ time. That was something I really needed to do and when coach Robin Singh came, he emphasised on fitness. I could see a massive difference from being a player in the qualifier and in the first match against Canada,” said Lakra, who feels lot more at ease now after making his One Day International debut against Scotland in the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup League 2 in August.

Adithya Shetty

Age: 18

Bowling: Leg-spin

Batting: Right hand

The leg-spinning teenager has proved a maturity beyond his age by adopting to the senior grade quite easily. Shetty, who is among the reserves and waiting to make his debut in the senior team, feels that his main strength is to quickly analyse the strengths and weakness of the players and plan differently to different batters.

“I have done well to get adjusted to the set up pretty quickly,” said Shetty, who made a big leap from the Under-16 level to the senior men’s team.

“In the senior level you encounter batters who are stronger and play big shots. You need to learn how the batter plays and analyse their strengths and weaknesses and you need to have a different plan for different batters. Playing A division and lots of intra-squad games helped me to adjust to the level.”

Vriitya Aravind

Age: 20

Batting: Right hand

Position: Wicketkeeper

The UAE vice-captain has been raising the bar after setting high standards since the start of the new year. “This year what I have done best is to being adaptive to the situation, that’s worked out pretty well for me and, hopefully, it continues,” he said. “It’s great to be part of the World Cup team, but that’s not our only intention. Our main goal as a team and as an individual is qualify for the second round into the Super 12 also we want to do well in the next 10 games in the ICC Cricket League 2 and qualify for the 50-over World Cup.”

Karthik Meiyappan
Karthik Meiyappan receiving the player of the match award after his impressive spell against Kuwait in the Asia Cup qualifiers. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Karthik Meiyappan

Age: 21

Bowling: Right arm leg-spinner

Batting: Right hand

The leg-spinner was part of the set up for a long time and after making his debut in 2021, Meiyappan waited for the right opportunity to grab his chance with both hands by producing a match-winning performance against Kuwait in the recent Asia Cup qualifiers against Kuwait in Oman.

“Playing for the UAE is a proud moment and a dream come true, but along with it comes a lot of responsibilities on the shoulders. Biggest advantage is that I have been part of the set-up for a long time, but not featured in too many games. That gives a lot of motivation to give your best for the team,” said the commerce graduate. “My role is to take wickets for the team that’s what I do by bowling lots of dot balls and bringing the batters under pressure.” The 21-year-old credited his two stints as net bowler with the developmental squads of the Indian Premier League teams, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Chennai Super Kings in 2020 and 2021, for making him a better bowler. “Our coach Robin has lot of experience and speak to him and get a lot of tactical inputs from him.”

Alishan Sharafu

Alishan Sharafu

Age: 19

Batting: Right hand

Bowling: Medium pace

The Under-19 World Cup captain feels he was fortunate to play for both the teams at the same time.

“I got picked for the men’s side when I was 17 and I made my ODI debut during covid. Overall it’s been a great learning experience as the shift is very big and you have to adapt to it. It’s been a great journey so far and hope it continues for a long time,” said Sharafu.

He feels it’s important not to crumble under pressure and at the senior level there’s very little room for error. “The smallest of errors can cost while the Under-19 is very competitive, but the men’s cricket is the highest level and you have to on top of you game. To finish the highest qualifying ranking in the Under-19 World Cup and book a place in the next is pretty big achievement. Now I want to cement my spot in the men’s side.”