This year’s Indian Premier League (IPL) was like no other due to COVID-19, but it was arguably one of the most successful in the tournament’s history. A record number of people tuned in at various points in the tournament, held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Emerging Cricket spoke to UAE men’s team national captain Ahmed Raza about the privilege of being hosts, and his own personal involvement with the tournament.
Raza was drafted into the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) as a net bowler following a recommendation from RCB’s batting and spin bowling coach Sridharan Sriram, after the pair had previously worked together in Australia. Raza felt welcome during his time with the squad, telling Emerging Cricket that ‘the players don’t make you feel how huge stars they are in reality.’
‘It was massive to be a part of a team like RCB which has cricketing giants of the modern era within its roster,’ he continued.
It is still uncommon that Associate Member players are invited to be part of IPL franchises in any capacity. Raza found the experience invaluable, and felt it aided his development significantly. ‘It’s hard to point at one or two things which were my takeaways from the experience. It was the quality of the sessions and just being around the squad through which I felt my game improving.’
Raza also enjoyed his reunion with Sriram. Of Sriram, Raza said, ‘his knowledge of spin bowling is second to none, we spoke at length and how the [COVID-19] break actually helped most bowlers. You learn a lot because he challenges you at every training session to keep raising the bar. Think outside the box, speak to other bowlers around you pick up their brains.’
In addition to everything he picked up at training sessions, Raza highlighted the players’ willingness to share knowledge with him also improved his experience. There was one player in particular that Raza felt he learnt from.
‘I really enjoyed bowling with Moeen Ali. He’s really helpful and a smart thinker’.
Raza was not the only player from the UAE national squad involved with the IPL. Zahoor Khan and Karthik Meiyappan were also drafted in as net bowlers for the Mumbai Indians and RCB respectively.
Raza, when talking on behalf of the trio, affirmed that ‘it was a huge learning experience for myself, Zahoor and Karthik. It’s like a university of cricket so if you are keen on learning there is a lot of knowledge there to be soaked up. If IPL 2021 takes place in the UAE, I hope there are more UAE players involved as it will benefit us all going forward.’
Emerging Cricket also asked Raza about his reflections on the country of his birth hosting the tournament itself. Pride emanated from the UAE national team captain as he said ‘I think it was a huge achievement to pull off a tournament like IPL during the pandemic. Credit must be given to UAE government authorities and the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB).
‘Everyone talks about the financial benefits we got by hosting the tournament but the bigger picture is that we as UAE pulled of an IPL in a bio-secure bubble during COVID-19. For me that’s the biggest achievement. People around the world were desperate to watch live sports and during these unprecedented times, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) & ECB-UAE brought back the smiles to the faces of every cricket lover.’
Raza concluded the interview reflecting that ‘As the UAE captain I felt really proud of it [hosting and being involved as a player in the IPL] and thanks to everyone who was involved behind the scenes to make it work without any issues whatsoever.’
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