NAPIER: Pakistan play 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 UAE 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 UAE 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 UAE’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 UAE a place to realise their dreams of international cricket.
UAE veteran Khurram Khan is a case in point.
A left-handed batsman of immense talent, the 43-year-old Khurram failed to make it beyond the regional team in Multan and finally migrated to the UAE.
Meanwhile Shaiman Anwar is from Sialkot, while wicketkeeper Saqlain Haider hails from Rawalpindi and Nasir Aziz is a Karachiite.
Fast-rising Rohan Mustafa is from Kohat in the North-West Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region and Amjad Ali is from Lahore, one of Pakistan’s great cricket centres.
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 UAE team right now after hitting 67 in their first Pool B game against Zimbabwe and then notching the team’s first ever World Cup hundred in the match against Ireland.
“Pakistan has had a huge impact on the UAE,” said UAE-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 UAE 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 UAE 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 UAE’s support by saying: “UAE is very important for us, whatever we did in the last four years, UAE has played a big part by giving us grounds to clean-sweep England, Australia and beat Sri Lanka,” said Misbah, who once played league cricket in the Gulf. AFP