<
>

'Hero' Naveed happy to put on a show

Mohammad Naveed bats Getty Images

Mohammad Naveed eyes the middle stump hiding behind the batsman and not playing a fair fight. He targets it from the first ball he bowls, coming off a shortish run-up but gathering pace as he nears the top of his mark. His arm speed is impressive as well and he is able to skid through the defences of Kinchit Shah, Tanwir Afzal and Aizaz Khan with very little warning.

At the end of a one-sided clash, Naveed finished with 3 for 14 from his four overs and Hong Kong's 147 for 7 was overhauled with six wickets and nine balls to spare, leaving UAE in pole position to qualify for the main round of the Asia Cup.

UAE are the only team that is unbeaten after three days of memorable cricket in the qualifiers, and their net run-rate may well be big enough to accommodate a loss in their final match tomorrow against Oman. The Fatullah crowd may not have done the math, but they are quite partial to physics, especially the set of laws which say small but heavy projectiles will have no trouble uprooting a pole dug into the earth it if had enough force behind it. Naveed has certainly put in enough force, for various reasons.

"The crowd comes in to see who can be a hero, and if we put in a good show, they will always leave happy. And I am proud I can give them that. It's an amazing country, Bangladesh. I like it. Feeling their excitement is the biggest happiness for me." Perhaps, but there maybe a bit of selfishness in there as well. "[Not only the fans] If I perform well, I am happy too."

Naveed has grown accustomed to an audience well before becoming a professional cricketer. "There were crowds larger than this [in Fatullah] when I used to play tape-ball cricket."

In fact, he did not really have much hard-ball experience when he wound up at a fast-bowling trial for the national team in Dubai in 2011-12. Until then, he had been a simple, but popular, man working at a shipping company in Fujairah and playing street cricket with his friends.

"After a lot of hard work, I was able to go to Sharjah and bowl to a touring Sri Lanka team. I got a three-four batsmen out and that was when [former UAE coach] Kabir Khan saw me and said 'this boy is good, take him,'" Naveed says.

Current coach Aaqib Javed is of a similar opinion, which had taken from the minute he had seen Naveed at that fast-bowling trial. "It takes a lot more effort than a cricket ball, especially bowling yorkers," Aaqib had explained to the National. "When you are playing tape-ball cricket, you have to be smart."

Naveed made his UAE debut not long after and has never looked back, except to thank his friends for convincing him to go and participate in the trial. Now, not only does he get to play for UAE, tour the world and break middle stumps, he has the security of a day job, too. Naveed was picked up by United Bank Limited and plays for them in the domestic circuit.

Among the reasons Naveed has been such an attractive package is that he seems to replicate one vital tape-ball skill with the hard ball too: beating the batsman for pace. He has a steady approach to the crease, but summons a lot of power in his load-up and delivery. Often, he gets the ball to zip through after pitching and if the batsman had chosen to blindly slog one of them, he was a goner.

The power for those kinds of shots come from a considerably large back-lift and so it might take that little bit longer for the bat to come down and meet the ball. That seems to be more than enough for Naveed to exploit. He has 50 wickets in List-A matches, putting him fifth among UAE players over the last decade. The man at the top is Amjad Javed with 61, but he has taken 60 innings to get there. Naveed is only on 36.

In T20Is, Naveed's tally is 13, and the 3 for 14 tonight is his best performance till date. The team may not have known that, but they were certainly appreciative of his efforts. Naveed had barely finished following through after completing his spell when three fielders from the offside made a beeline right to him for lengthy pats on the back. As he was wandering off to his fielding position, his captain Javed came up and gave him a triumphant high-five. Each of Naveed's strikes had come at the perfect time for UAE - the first, 17th and 19th overs, and Hong Kong were thumped.

It was only three months ago that the shoe was on the other foot. Hong Kong were on tour in the UAE and demolished the hosts in three out of three matches. Could that have been a goal for Naveed? He has a habit of doing the things he sets his mind to. At a meeting with coach Javed to discuss the 2015 World Cup, Naveed said he wanted to hit Dale Steyn for a six. It took him only two balls to do so.