With the Gulf side featuring a majority of Pakistani-origin players, upcoming match is battle of two ‘home’ teams.
Pakistan plays their home games in the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf side’s XI features a majority of expats born in Pakistan. So it will be like two ‘home’ teams playing each other when Pakistan face the U.A.E. in a World Cup Pool B game in Napier on Wednesday, not that there will be any camaraderie once the players take the field.
The U.A.E. team have nine players in their 15-man squad either born in Pakistan or of Pakistani origin, with football generally more popular among the host community than cricket. Census figures from 2013 show the U.A.E.’s total population at 9.2 million, of which 1.4 million are Emirati citizens and 7.8 million are expatriates, mostly from Pakistan and India.
Several fringe Pakistani cricketers who made a name for themselves at first-class level but could not break into the national set-up have found in the U.A.E. a place to realize their dreams of international cricket. U.A.E. veteran Khurram Khan is a case in point.
A left-handed batsman of immense talent, the 43-year-old Khan failed to make it beyond the regional team in Multan and finally migrated to the U.A.E. Meanwhile Shaiman Anwar is from Sialkot, while wicketkeeper Saqlain Haider hails from Rawalpindi and Nasir Aziz is from Karachi. Fast-rising Rohan Mustafa is from Kohat in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and Amjad Ali is from Lahore.
But all of them are part-time players who earn their livings away from the game, with several working for Emirati airlines.
The 35-year-old Anwar is the toast of the U.A.E. team right now after hitting 67 in their first Pool B game against Zimbabwe and then notching the team’s first ever World Cup century in the match against Ireland.
“Pakistan has had a huge impact on the U.A.E.,” said U.A.E.-based journalist Paul Radley. “Now they have former Pakistan paceman Aaqib Javed as their coach and under him the team has improved, with many players of Pakistani origin.”
Now efforts to attract local Emiratis are starting to pay dividends, with Dubai-born Mohammad Tauqir captaining the U.A.E. at the World Cup. “We’re starting an academy,” Aaqib told Wisden India. “In our top 30, there are six locals. There are three in the top 18 and two in the 15. Why will a local boy support his team when it’s not doing well? It’s important for us to do well so that locals are attracted to the game.”
Cricket links between Pakistan and the U.A.E. were strengthened once Pakistan became a “no-go” area for international teams in the wake of attacks on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore in March 2009. Since then grounds in the Gulf state have staged the bulk of Pakistan’s ‘home’ matches.
Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq acknowledged the U.A.E.’s support by saying: “U.A.E. is very important for us, whatever we did in the last four years, U.A.E. has played a big part by giving us grounds to clean-sweep England, Australia and beat Sri Lanka,” said Haq, who once played league cricket in the Gulf.