UAE captain Khurram Khan, 38, is one of the classiest players on the circuit. On and off the field his immaculate and unhurried style has made him stand out from all his peers. His matches for the UAE national team are laced with fine performances with bat and ball from the day he started playing for them and for long he has been the wicket opponents have prized the most. He spoke to us in Kuala Lumpur, a few hours after signing off from his duties as purser on an Emirates flight.

“Captaincy helps my game and it’s something that’s inbuilt.”

How long have you been playing for the UAE?
I started playing in July 2001 and my first tournament was the ICC Trophy in Canada.

What took you to the UAE?
I was always playing back home and my brother was here in Dubai. He was constantly asking me to come here because there was a club where I could play. When I finished my university in Pakistan I got offered a job in the UAE soon after.

Were you always working with Emirates Airlines from the start of your time in the UAE?
Yes, I started working with Emirates in 1999. I think Arshad Ali and I were the first to qualify under the four-year rule to be able to play for the UAE.

Khurram takes on Hong Kong

Have you always played for Fly Emirates?
For two or three seasons I played for a club called Tariq Cricket Club, Multan in Pakistan which was a very good team. And then I played for Emirates. The good thing was I always used to play in a team which reached the final or won tournaments and so I got to play more matches and win which boosted my confidence.

How quickly did you get noticed as a cricketer in UAE?
To be honest, I was noticed very quickly because the first game I played for was the team I finally got a job in, I scored an unbeaten 100 and got two wickets. It was a difficult track because it was cement and the ball didn’t turn at all. I batted and fielding very well that day. After that very first game, I got the job as well!

Do you ever think that if you’d stayed in Pakistan you could have played for them?
I’m just happy with what I’ve achieved so far. There can be a lot of ifs and buts but I really am happy with the decisions I’ve made regarding my cricket.

A victorious UAE team, 2006 ACC Trophy Elite

Have you found that standards at club-level have increased since you first came?
I think that as far as the facilities are concerned, definitely things have improved. When we started playing there was only one ground which was the Sharjah Cricket Stadium and the rest all were cement and hard tracks where we couldn’t even field. Cricket-skills wise, there is also definite improvement as well and naturally so, because of the increase in cricket grounds and turf wickets. It has its ups and downs though.

Your generation of players, who are now in their 30s, many of them are in the national team. Is the younger talent drying up now?
I don’t think it’s drying up. There are lots of youngsters who are playing. The clubs in Dubai have under-12, under-14 and under-16 tournaments and this is very good. If you have these youngsters playing now, they will surely come up to the national team in the future. There is definitely no shortage in talent.

There is an issue now of having to include local players in age-group ACC tournaments. Is this an issue that can be resolved for the UAE?
It has to be seen from a different perspective. Let’s take myself for example, I have been living in the UAE for 13 years and still I am considered an expatriate. Lots of the guys who play are born in the UAE but are Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Sri Lankan and they too are still considered to be expats. This is the rule of the country because they do not give out passports. Whereas if I were in Scotland or Ireland it would be different because they have Indians and Pakistanis but they are now Scottish or Irish. It’s just a different way of looking at it. We have different regulations and it is the way it is where we are not going to get passports. If I were in any other country, I would’ve gotten a passport. There are locals coming up but it’s not a large amount of people.

Khurram (R) celebrates a wicket with Qasim Zubair (C) and Ahmed Fayyaz (L), 2010 ACC Trophy Elite

Cricket is a great game. Would you see any reason why a local Arab would not want to play?
Most of them who are playing have basically been living or educated abroad like in India, Pakistan or even Australia. All these countries love cricket and this is where they learn the game from. Being in the UAE, there are other sports, like football. This is the main reason they don’t play. Twenty20 has brought in a lot of interest into the game which is very positive. If you go to the nets now you will find it hard to practice because there are so many people playing. The numbers will go up after other T20 tournaments.

How often do you get to practice?
Normally we practice three days a week. It’s not an easy schedule to follow because all of us work. Some of us work from 8am to 5pm and some have shifts which makes it difficult. Some of our players have to travel from Abu Dhabi which is two hours away. You finish work at 6 in the evening and travel two hours, practice, and it’s another two hours back. They only reach home way past midnight and the next day is work again. Therefore it’s very hard to keep up.

If you’re flying and away on work most of the time like me, then I’ve got a different fitness plan that I’ve got to work on every day. I take my elastic fitness bands along with me whenever I fly, wherever I am and do a lot of push-ups every day.

Next Page | “Captaincy helps my game and it’s something that’s inbuilt.”