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Ahmed Raza: Bowling in T10 is like bowling in a Super Over

Last updated on 08 Jun 2020 | 08:28 AM
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Ahmed Raza: Bowling in T10 is like bowling in a Super Over

The UAE spinner opens about his stint as captain, progress of UAE and its players over the years, among other topics

Ahmed Raza took over as captain of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after the match-fixing scandal that sent shockwaves, which saw four players including captain Mohammad Naveed axed. The 31-year-old was always tipped to take over the mantle at some point and now has a chance to lead UAE into their next era. He has started off well in the ICC Cricket World Cup League 2 having picked up 10 wickets from six matches with a career best of 5 for 26 in his side’s previous match against Namibia and when cricket resumes again, they are in a good position to perhaps qualify for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. 

UAE narrowly missed out on qualifying for the T20 World Cup in Australia, but are the highest-ranked associate nation in T20Is, placed above some competitive sides like Scotland and Netherlands. With a good mix of youth and experience, UAE certainly have what it takes against the big guns and have already begun their quest to qualify for the next edition of the World Cup.

In a chat with, Raza looks back at his and the team’s journey over the years and also gives us a glimpse of how much UAE cricket has grown over the years. 

You took over as captain in the middle of tough times for UAE cricket. Are you happy with the way things have panned out since then?

Not qualifying for the T20 World Cup was a hard pill to swallow. But we played good cricket during the tournament. During those tough times we showed a lot of character. It won’t be fair if I take all the credit. I’ve handled on the field and I’ve handled the press and all of those things. The board, the manager, it was a collective effort. That phase (match-fixing) was there, but these kind of challenges can come in the way, you just have to overcome those. Once you step on to the field, you don’t think about anything and it’s just about a game of cricket.

Do you enjoy captaining the side? 

I’ve always enjoyed captaining. Even when I wasn’t the captain, my mind always is thinking like a captain. When I started, within a few years, I was the successor to Khurram Khan, who was our captain at that time. I was bred as the vice-captain, as the successor. Then I led my under-19 team as well, then I was leading my domestic side as well. So, I’ve always enjoyed it. My mind is always thinking as a captain. It hasn’t changed a lot, it’s just that I’m making my own decisions now. Before I was just making decisions in my head and approaching the captain with my ideas.

Tell me about your cricketing journey. I heard that for a brief time you had contemplated taking up hockey as well. Is that true?

Yeah, I did very briefly, thanks to my brother. At that age when you’re 13-14, you don’t take failures very well. I was not picked in the UAE Under-15. My brother said why don’t you play hockey? I played hockey for a couple of months and then I knew this is not for me and went back to cricket. I was not someone who grew with cricket….I grew with cricket obviously – I was living very close to the Sharjah stadium, my dad used to take me there all the time, but I was reborn after I was 15-16 around that age when I became a spinner, because I started as a medium-pacer. Used to watch a lot of Wasim Akram. Pakistan-India were playing in the UAE every quite often. Sharjah cricket stadium was walking distance from my house.


Friends gathering was also in the stadium, we all went there and watched the game. My father used to take me to domestic matches as well. At that age you don’t really learn, but your love for cricket just grows. 

Robin Singh recently took over as the coach of the UAE team. In his short stay so far, how has your relationship and that of the team been with him?

We started off really well with new ideas and new direction. I think the Oman trip we had together – not the best of opponents, no offense to them – but we were a really high ranked team. We were challenged a couple of times during that tournament. But I think post that tournament or during that tournament the mutual respect, for Robin Singh he wouldn’t know how Ahmed Raza thinks or how Rohan Mustafa thinks. He can see that stats, he has known us through T10 and what we have done for the country for so many years. But there is this gap which was reduced during the time we had in Oman and we came back as winners as well. During the practice, we spend a lot of time together. So, we talk about cricket. 

I tell him about my knowledge, he tells me there is another way of looking at this. The more we did that, there is no more gap between us. He is the head coach, he’s got a big stature. For him to take a few steps towards me and for me to take a few steps towards him - We are at the same wavelength now and so is the team. It is really exciting period as a team and for me as a captain as well to get along with the head coach because that’s a very important relationship for any team. Whenever we start again, I’m sure we’ll start from where we left off. 

Tell me about your experience in the Abu Dhabi T10 League. For someone has an economy rate of a little over 6 in T20s, it must have been a strange feeling to go for 14 an over in the tournament.

But T10 is that kind of format. It started pretty well, the first couple of games went well. But it can only take a few games for you to go blank again. But then again, that’s part and parcel. The important thing is what you get out of it. I think what I got out of it, the next time I play, I’ll choose different options, different ideas. Bowling in T10 is like bowling in a Super Over. You have only two overs and every ball is like a free hit of a batter. You have to be ahead of the batsman every time and sometimes it comes off and sometimes it doesn’t. 

Hashim Amla was our (Karnataka Tuskers) captain. Even with runs flowing so quickly, he was such a calm individual. He would always give me my first plan and if the plan is not working he would step in and give me another idea but he would never impose his idea, which was nice. The first few games we played, I did well. I won the man of the match in the first game. In the second game I went for 16 or something with the wicket of (Rilee) Rossouw. I was still learning. I was talking to Tom Moody a lot, who was my coach. So, if you don’ t walk out of these tournaments without learning something or learning from your mistakes – it attributes to your own game – then there is no point of this opportunity which comes a few times in a year. It is important to take something out of this opportunity.

Also, how was it sharing the dressing rooms with cricketers like Shahid Afridi, Kevin O'Brien, Luke Ronchi and others in the Global T20 League in Canada?

It was a different kind of experience. If you’re playing or not, you should still be looking to do stuff, where you can learn from it. It was again a good learning experience and I love talking about cricket. So, even when I was not playing I was just with Mohammad Akram, Julien Fountain the fielding coach, I used to sit with him a lot and think about different angles. Very nice that associate players are getting these opportunities, share dressing room with some greats of our game. How many times do we get an opportunity to work with someone like Tom Moody? It’s a nice opportunity. Abu Dhabi T10 League is somewhat of an assurance for us because they pick two UAE players, which is a good rule. 

You are among the top five bowlers when it comes to having the best economy rate in T20 Internationals. What is the secret behind it?

My thinking is always the same. Even when I am fielding or even when I’m captaining, I’m still observing the batsman – what’s he doing, what is his getaway shot, what is his go-to shot, which balls he targets. You balance all that out and you look at the stats as well. With associate cricket, we play a lot of cricket amongst each other. 

I’m not the best among wicket-takers in T20, but I am doing my job when it comes to economy rates. When you give away 24 runs in four overs, then you just have to protect your 16 overs. Whatever job you have in your team, you do it to your best of abilities. In T20, I got a lot of confidence when we played the Asia Cup 2016, when we had three games at a stretch against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The first boundary I conceded I think was against Pakistan, I went for 15-16 runs in that Asia Cup every game. But again, I was pretty mature by that time. To do it against Test playing nations, gives you a lot more confidence. 

UAE gets only a handful of games against the full-members. Are you disappointed with this and do you think this needs to change?

Over the last few years, the opportunities have kind of increased. The boards work together towards it. We played a T20 International against Australia last year. But we couldn’t turn the game against New Zealand into a T20I when they were here, but we played that game. Pakistan plays a lot of their series here. With the teams coming here, we get an opportunity to play against them. Even if we get more games against the A teams – Pakistan A, India A or Sri Lanka A – more of those games will help as well. Getting more international games and getting to play against Test playing nations is very good because you keep testing yourself against the best in the world. 

What do you think of the ICC Cricket World Cup League 2 for the cycle of 2019-22, you're off to a good start having won the tri-series featuring Oman and Namibia. Do you think this is the best way to determine which team plays the qualifiers in 2022?

If you look at the format, there are 36 ODIs to be played and 36 ODIs is sufficient enough games over the course of 2-2 ½ years to see who actually falls into the top-tier of the group and they directly go into the qualifiers. But even the teams that miss out, they go down and play another round of qualification to still be able to qualify. I think 36 ODIs are sufficient enough to know. If they don’t get the opportunity to go directly into the qualifier, then this league doesn’t have its importance. 

Three years ago, Chirag Suri became the first cricketer from UAE to be picked in the IPL. Is that a source of encouragement for you and other cricketers in the team to put their name forward in the auction?

Yes, definitely. This year’s auction, Zahoor Khan’s name was there but he wasn’t picked. I’m not really sure of the regulation because someone with a Pakistani passport can put their name into the auction or not. It was great to see Chirag going there. I think he came back as a different player, his mindset was different and if you look at his graph after that, he is improving. 

UAE is the highest ranked T20I team among associates. You must be really proud of this achievement considering over 100 teams play T20I cricket.

Yes, 100%. That’s the testament to the work we have done over the last few years. We play a lot of T20 cricket. We have a mix of power and brains – players who can maneuver, players who can hit the long ball. Our bowling is our biggest strength. Everyone says T20 is a batsman’s game, but look at the whole record, it’s the bowlers who win you games, not the batters. We’ve had a good bowling attack over a long period of time. You got a leg-spinner, you’ve got a left-arm spinner, fast bowling allrounders, genuine pace – you cover all the bases. 

The ICC gave an official T20I status to all member countries. Do you think this a step in the right direction to make cricket a global sport?

If you look at the number of countries who play football, that is the step in the right direction. ICC provides funding and the regional bodies provide funding as well. Our job is to grow cricket as much as possible. The bigger the market, bigger the stakes. Who knows? In the coming years a lot more teams like these are getting better and better because they’re playing more cricket now. 

I read that not too long ago you had a job to fall back on not too long ago in case things do not go according to plan when it comes to UAE cricket. Is that the case with most players in your team?

Not really. This is what I said in 2018, and there was some trouble in the media and we were not going to make it to the qualifiers. So, it was at that time I said that because I was still not at that point a professional cricketer, I was semi-professional. We’ve got some young players now, they are still university students. The others are mostly contracted. I had a job to fall back on, but I felt I’m losing out on something very big. I was 29 at that time, so, at the age of 29, you don’t want to wait till 33 to get ODI status again. These are your peak years as a cricket player. It was more of that. It is our responsibility as senior players to get the job done, to get the status, qualify for the World Cup. Unfortunately, we didn’t qualify for the World Cup but retained our ODI status. Now the biggest goal is to get to the next World Cup.

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