On the surface, Muhammad Waseem is the kind of cricketer you wish you were.
By 10.10pm Australian Eastern Daylight Time, Waseem had bowled just 22 balls in official Twenty20 cricket. He had got three wickets in those 22 balls, which makes for an impressive strike rate of 7.33. Two of these three wickets were Namibians - one of them David Wiese - but still. His main role in the side is to open with the bat.
Somewhere between 10.10pm and 10.15pm, Waseem came on to bowl in a match that had appeared to be UAE's in the bag but was now in the balance. The momentum was with Namibia with Wiese refusing to have this as his last game in this tournament. And who knew if he would ever play one again?
Waseem marked an extremely short run-up, making the keeper - standing as far back as he did for other quicks - look like either optimistic or unaware. Waseem tiptoed for a bit, and then off four paces he let the ball rip. First ball nearly a yorker. Second ball beat Ruben Trumplemann and carried comfortably to the keeper. He was like the old pro in the neighbourhood who could just turn up and do anything. As an opening bat, he had scored a half-century earlier in the day.
This was the 17th over. Seventy-three off 36 had become 46 off 24. The last over had gone for 18. Even Trumplemann had begun to hit now. And here Waseem was, hardly a bowler, nailing his lengths off four paces at a decent lick.
UAE are a lovely mix. Their cricket is no longer just the first-generation guns for hire. Many of their cricketers are homegrown. Their background is diverse. Their captain is a Malayali, their youngest player of Goan origin, their hat-trick hero is Tamil, their fast bowlers have roots in Pakistan. The team language is Hindi/Urdu, but Waseem can speak a bit of Malayalam, the captain's mother tongue. Unlike their former countries, they have no problem playing with each other. They are not insecure. They are loud, expressive and are not shy of having a go at each other on the field. They are also a team that was aiming for just their second win in all World Cups, after their triumph over Netherlands in 1996. So even though this was a dead rubber for them in terms of tournament play, but there was a big point to prove. To others and to themselves. The world just below Full Member sides is cut-throat.
When they came to the ground, the Malayalee captain, CP Rizwan, saw the pitch and decided in consultation with the Trinidadian/Indian coach, Robin Singh, that they would play an extra spinner, and told Waseem he might be called upon to bowl an over or two.
Now domestic T20 cricket in the UAE doesn't qualify as official T20 cricket. So it is easy to miss that Waseem bowls a bit in T20s. Not just bowl, he bowls at the death. He makes sure he does because he is the captain of his club side. Recently in D10 cricket, he defended eight runs in the final over. Sometimes he bowls 14, 16, 18, 20. And he is playing, as he says, every second-third day.
Muhammad Waseem gets a hug from his captain•AFP/Getty Images
In the UAE team, though, the bowling is, in his words, "very good", so he isn't required to bowl. Now that he was bowling, he had to do so to the ultimate pro, Wiese, who knew UAE would need two overs from somewhere and was quite excited at the idea of playing spin. He can pounce on any error in length. Waseem missed his on the fifth, and got clubbed. This was, to borrow from the ICC's punch line, big time.
With the sixth ball, Wiese perhaps fell to the temptation of the short square boundaries and turned the bat face. Waseem settled under the massive top edge, but the ball caught him on the fingers. Waseem was good enough to recover and fire a quick throw that would have caught Wiese short had the keeper gone back to the wicket.
"I was very upset because I hardly drop catches," Waseem said. "It is very rare that I drop one. When I did drop him - I was under it, had judged it, but it caught the fingers instead of the palm - I thought it was a big mistake, but the way Zahoor bowled that 19th over, I got my confidence back."
It was Zahoor Khan, born in Faisalabad, about 200km north of Mian Chunnu where Waseem started his cricket, who kept the game alive with his yorkers and one bewitching slower ball. He has been fantastic throughout at the death in this World Cup. His 19th over - three runs and a wicket - against Netherlands created something out of nothing. In the 20th against Sri Lanka, he conceded three runs and took two wickets.
Zahoor gave Waseem a second wind. He was confident again. "The good thing is, being a death-overs bowler, I get yorkers right," Waseem said. "And the plan was to bowl yorkers so that even if I miss the length, they have to hit down the ground, which is a big hit. I wanted to avoid being hit square. The idea was to get hit straight down the ground if I did, and that's what happened with Wiese's wicket."
Wiese, who had been waiting to target the two overs from spinners, was spot on when he said he was expecting some error from the part-time bowler. "We weren't really expecting him to come on but when he came on - at the end of the day he is a part-timer - so you would expect him to miss one or two but he bowled well tonight," Wiese said. "He executed his skill and at the end of the day, we just didn't have enough in us. Fair play to them, well bowled."
The night ended in tears for Wiese. At the press conference, he sat stone-faced, staring at nothing in particular. He vowed to come back for Namibia in the 2024 T20 World Cup. Rizwan was a relieved man, having got that elusive first win. "I'm feeling really happy," Rizwan said. "First win for UAE in a [T20] World Cup. Indeed, it's a proud moment. Really, we can now fly back better." Just another bittersweet final day of the first round of a T20 World Cup.