Khurram Khan soars in dual role
UAE's captain Khurram Khan juggles his cricket with another high-flying career. He talks about cricket in the UAE and his plans for retirement
Khurram Khan once met Brian Lara in his workplace, 35,000 ft in the air. The captain of UAE also has a day (and night) job as a flight purser, and is on his feet for long hours, serving people and ensuring their safety on flights.
Khurram has led his team through ups and downs, and this year they played in the World T20 (albeit not quite in the main event) for the first time, making a return to a major ICC event after 18 years.
When he developed an interest in cricket back in home in Pakistan, little did he know that he would soon be working for one of the top airlines in the world, as well as captaining the national cricket team of a different country.
"Like everyone else in Pakistan, I have played cricket in the streets and parks. I played with my cousins and friends with a tennis ball. The first time I played with a cricket ball was just before I had joined university. This was in 1996, when my brother Atiq Khan, who played first-class cricket for Multan, kept telling me to come to the UAE. I finished university, went to the UAE and joined Emirates Airlines in 1999."
In his first game for Emirates, Khurram made a hundred and took two wickets on a cement pitch. That brought him to the UAE team, and he has not looked back.
He usually practises three times a week. And when he is away at work, he does not neglect his fitness routine. He sometimes takes elastic fitness bands along on flights, and practises push-ups on board when he can.
Khurram is grateful to Emirates for giving him the chance to maintain both careers. "Emirates is a busy airline, as everyone knows. More than anyone else in the company, it was CEO Maurice Flanagan who helped me immensely. He always supported my cricket career, and let me play matches often. Many of the crew members do fitness work and one or two even take part in Iron Man contests. It becomes quite tough for me to manage both, particularly when I have to travel to the US. I come back after these long flights and go straight into training sometimes."
Khurram turns 43 this June, and he has batted well during the World T20, though his team failed to progress from the group stages. But UAE could have an even bigger World Cup coming up next year, in Australia and New Zealand.
Khurram has been thinking about retirement, having talked to the UAE selectors about appointing a new captain ahead of the World T20, but they want him to continue. And why wouldn't they? He was the team's top scorer in their successful World Cup qualifiers in New Zealand earlier this year.
"New Zealand was a great experience, and we have learned a lot about playing in those conditions. We went there early to prepare ourselves and before we left for New Zealand, former Pakistan batsman Ijaz Ahmed helped us out with advice, and obviously we also have Aaqib Javed, who is a superb coach.
"Retirement has been on the back of my mind ever since I reached 40. So it has been a very long time that I have thought about it, and just after the World T20 qualifiers I told the chief selector we should have a new captain, but they said I should continue, and here I am."
Khurram believes the day isn't far when cricket in the UAE becomes completely professional. Many kids are taking up the game, and with central contracts now in place, more youngsters will think about cricket as a career option. Foreign cricketers have also shown interest in the various leagues played in UAE, which bodes well for the game there.
"You won't believe me but we have more than 100 cricket clubs in the UAE, most of whom play competitive T20 cricket. Even Pakistani players are coming in to play these tournaments, which offer good money."
Khurram will be remembered as a pioneer in UAE cricket, irrespective of when he decides to hang up his cricket boots to focus on his other high-flying career. He wants to finish on the biggest stage, the 2015 World Cup.
"I don't know if I will last till 2015, but the World Cup will the icing on the cake of my cricket career."
If he can take them that far, he ought to play it too.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here