uae-cricket

The UAE will take its first steps towards professionalism at the start of next year when full-time, central contracts are introduced for the first time.

Aaqib Javed, the head coach, is identifying up to five players who he thinks would be suitable for the first Emirates Cricket Board deals.

“We are building towards a professional set up, with full-time players hopefully starting in January,” Aaqib said.

“It will not be all, but some. Every country started like this. I look at it as a progression. We have made it a semi-professional team already because now they have conceded cricket is their first love.

“They used to play for fun, it was just another tour. Now this is the first step towards professionalism.”

The need for central contracts has become a necessity, given the packed calendar. Over the course of this year, for example, most leading national team players are likely to be on cricket duty for approximately three months.

Even being granted leave to play relies on understanding employers, let alone being paid their wages uninterrupted.

Six players took unpaid leave from their day jobs to play at the World Cup. Their salary was covered instead by the ECB for the duration of the competition.

That was less than might have been the case. Companies such as Emirates Airline and United Bank Limited continued paying their employees despite their extended absence from the workplace.

“People have started realising the UAE cricket team is something to look up to,” Aaqib said.

“They are happily releasing their players to play for the UAE. They have seen them in two World Cups, and the Emirates were really excited because their management were really appreciating them for playing in the World Cup.”

Having players contracted to the ECB has been made possible thanks to the ICC high-performance funding increase that was earned when the UAE earned full one-day international status last year.

Immediately, the thoughts of the players turned to the idea of going full-time.

“To play cricket professionally would be good,” Amjad Javed, who works in the cargo department of Emirates, said at the time.

“The standard of cricket in Dubai is very good, and to get the chance to do that on a professional level is definitely something I would like to do.”

The identity of the first centrally contracted players is likely to depend as much on their current employment conditions as their importance to the national team.

While outstanding players such as Javed, Mohammed Tauqir and Khurram Khan have generally played cricket as a sideline to their professions, others were recruited to their day jobs primarily on the strength of their cricket.

Mohammed Naveed, for instance, landed a job in the accounts department of UBL because he would strengthen their staff cricket team.

The same went for Swapnil Patil, whose employment as a receptionist for Yogi Group was based on his talent as a wicketkeeper batsman.

Given Yogi no longer have a staff team, Swapnil would presumably be a prime candidate for one of the new central contracts.

Aaqib expects the move to have a significant impact on cricket here.

“It is not only about the time you spend as professionals, it is the mindset,” the coach said.

“Sometimes, when you first priority is your work, when you play for the country or your team you are still confused as to what is your first love, and what you actually depend on.

“If you lose, you can always satisfy yourself by saying: No, I am not a professional cricketer, I gave my best, but I am a banker. It is like an excuse.

“Once you clear that and thing you are a professional, you take more responsibility. Other players will look up to them and that will push them to perform better.”