Rohan Mustafa: UAE players can do extraordinary things, if they trust us
Mustafa and UAE captain Ahmed Raza both think the local talent is ready to kick on
With arms outstretched and wearing a knowing grin, Abdul Shakoor lapped up the applause of his team-mates having launched Rayad Emrit for six over square leg to bring up a 14-ball half-century that got the T10 League off to a flier.
Shakoor became the first UAE player to hit a T10 fifty in the process, with his eventual 73 from 28 balls sealing Man-of-the-Match honours as Maratha Arabians began their defence with victory.
For a man who hasn't represented his country since 2018, it was the perfect way to announce himself - especially against a Northern Warriors side that is led by UAE coach Robin Singh - and for the tournament it highlighted the benefit of its one local player rule as the Sharjah-born wicketkeeper stole the show in some style.
"It's a big achievement for me and the UAE guys," Shakoor said in his post-match interview, with a delight etched across his face that unfortunately didn't return on day two when he got a second-ball duck.
In the opposite ranks on Thursday, however, sat Junaid Siddique - the 28-year-old seamer with six ODI caps and 13 T20I appearances under his belt, who left the field with no overs to his name. It was hardly a ringing endorsement given his national team coach was sitting in his own dugout.
Siddique last year picked up two wickets for the Warriors in just three overs spread across three games, having shared duties with UAE youngster Ansh Tandon for the local player slot. A left-handed middle-order batsman, Tandon made 1* in his sole three-ball visit to the crease.
Shakoor and Siddique represent both the opportunity and challenge that UAE players have in their mandatory inclusion in T10 team sheets.
Former UAE captain Rohan Mustafa knows both intimately, having been one of many bystanders in the first two editions before coming to the fore as the ace up Team Abu Dhabi's sleeve, taking the new ball in 2019 and being named vice-captain ahead of the 2021 edition. Now, he wants more of his countrymen to be given the same chances he was and he is adamant it will lead to similar performances as Shakoor's.
"If you don't get opportunities, then how will you show the world what you can do?," Mustafa told ESPNcricinfo. "The only thing is trust; if they trust us, I believe we have the kind of players that can play extraordinary innings.
"I don't know why [Siddique] didn't bowl but the captain has to trust him. I was very shocked to see he wasn't bowling. You have to trust him and you have to give him confidence. If you don't give a bowl to Junaid Siddique in the first match, automatically he will be under pressure in the second match, thinking: 'If I don't bowl well, they will remove me from the team.'"
UAE captain Ahmed Raza also believes it was an oversight that when Shakoor was going all guns blazing, the Warriors didn't throw the ball to the one man on the pitch who would have bowled to him previously and so would have known his game better than the rest.
"There's so much talk about match-ups in shorter forms like T20 and T10 and that's a great match-up there," said Raza. "Someone who is going very hard and is from the UAE when you have an opening bowler from the UAE in your ranks - I think they missed a trick there. Junaid has probably bowled at Shakoor a million times.
"I think we will start seeing these match-ups more. Teams will start thinking outside of the box more and maybe changing their order slightly or giving the ball to someone else as teams are still getting to know the UAE players."
A major surprise in the draft saw Raza among the players to initially go unsold before later being brought in by Pune Devils after dropouts among their imported stars. Muhammad Usman - who hit an unbeaten, match-winning ODI century against Ireland at Zayed Cricket Stadium as recently as January 8 - was another to miss out. He is one of the UAE players now in a kind of quarantine purgatory, waiting in the wings should any players pick up injury or coronavirus.
Raza went through the same process before being picked up by Pune and although he admitted his own surprise at not being initially selected, he is now delighted to be involved. He has also noticed a change among his fellow UAE players, who are no longer satisfied to simply take part but instead want to leave their mark on the tournament with contributions such as Shakoor's.
"Players were happy in the first year to be part of the team, but we started to get opportunities in the following years and now the mindset is totally different," Raza said. "It's not about just getting picked, it's about getting picked and then performing so people all around the world are taking notice of you and next year teams are taking you or you're being retained. I think it's good, it's about getting the opportunity and taking it with both hands."