Dubai: It was under somewhat extraordinary circumstances that Ahmed Raza was handed the captaincy of the UAE cricket team for the second time last October. There was virtually no time at his disposal as Raza had to rebuild a young team in the wake of suspension of some senior cricketers on charges of corruption and at the same time lead their campaign in a crucial assignment like the 20 World Cup qualifiers.
They had fallen at the last hurdle to Scotland, but were far from being disgraced and were in the thick of their campaign in the World Cup League Two for associate countries when all sporting action came to a halt in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic. As the UAE team resumed training in a staggered manner at the International Cricket Council Academy on Saturday, Raza feels they have ‘moved on’ from that turbulent phase and are looking forward to make their mark among their peers again.
Members of the UAE squad had a ‘test’ day at practice on Sunday, turning out in groups of five at a time throughout the day - carrying their own mask, kit and other personal belonging as per the ICC regulations.
A veteran of the regional cricket scene, the 31-year-old left arm spinner has a disliking for the catchphrase ‘rebuilding,’ whenever it’s used about his side. ‘‘I feel that word always sounds like an excuse for a team after losing. We have moved on from the situation from last year. Yes, we had narrowly failed to make the cut for the World T20 but we had convincingly beaten Scotland in the 50-overs format last December,’’ said Raza.
Speaking to Gulf News during an exclusive chat over phone, Raza said that like most athletes, the entire UAE team had been following a virtual regimen handed out by the physical conditioning team of the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) to keep themselves fit for as an when the outdoor training begins. ‘‘At the international level, there is a lot of cricket to be played as we are now scheduled to play 36 One-day Internationals in a two-year cycle. There are also the Asia Cup regional qualifiers where we had beaten Kuwait before the action stopped and we are ready to turn a new leaf,’’ said Raza, whose left-arm spin in T20 cricket boasts of a brilliant economy rate of 6.28 - bettered by only seven other bowlers, including the likes of Daniel Vettori, Rashid Khan and Harbhajan Singh.
The appointment of former Indian allrounder Robin Singh as the UAE coach in January, according to their captain, was one of the best things that could have happened to the national team. ‘‘He brings such rich experience on the table with his long experience in coaching - from being associated with the Indian team to Mumbai Indians and T10 franchises. It has brought a lot of energy in the team,’’ Raza said.
‘‘It was really nice to spend time together during our matches in Oman. He is extremely approachable and has new ideas - while his empahsis on fielding is quite well known. His philosophy is we should try to save at least 20 runs by fielding and run hard for another 40 runs during batting...this can create the margin between winning and losing,’’ he added.
Looking ahead, how does Raza envisage his role in the twin capacity of a captain and one of the few remaining senior pros in the team? ‘‘There is a core group of seniors like myself, Rohan (Mustafa) and Chirag Suri and we have to take the additional responsibility. We will allow the youngsters to play around us and that will be the way forward,’’ he observed.
Raza, who has played international cricket for 14 years now, has bowled to the likes of Virat Kohli and Shahid Afridi in Asia Cup, while he is no stranger to franchise cricket - having been a part of the T20 League in Canada and the T10 fare back home. Asked what had been the high point in his career, he was modest this time: ‘‘I am still looking for that moment. I don’t think it has come yet.’’
Role: Left-arm spinner
One-day Internationals: 31 matches, 35 wickets, average 31.4, economy rate: 3.95
T20 internationals: 41 matches, 29 wickets, average 30.3, economy rate: 6.28