UAE’s fielding has been the best in recent tournaments. Any idea why?
Well, it all adds up to the fitness levels. If you’re not fit enough then it definitely won’t help you in the field. You just have to be professional and work hard. If cricket here can be made into a profession so you work at it just like in an office then cricket standards will improve. It should just be cricket. Afghanistan’s cricketers just play cricket and earn some money from the game and look how far they’ve come.

How does UAE now raise its game now that other teams are catching up?
These things are always in the back of your mind but you have to leave them alone if you want to compete against teams like Ireland, Scotland and Afghanistan. We have to work hard and a plan has been given to every player. We are also now organizing training in Abu Dhabi cricket stadium. We’ve not done this before and we hope this will raise out fitness levels.

At the end of the day, you aim to play good cricket.
Exactly. There are a lot of teams playing good cricket. Like Afghanistan, they have improved and are far better than what they used to be. Over the last year plus, whatever they touched has turned to gold for them. I have been following their cricket and keep a track on what’s happening. They deserve to be there and are winning all the time. The last time we met them was in South Africa for a 50-over game and we beat them quite easily and that was in the first round. After that they went on to beat Canada and Ireland and get ODI status.

Cricket is an art. It’s not something you can just learn in a couple of years. It's obvious the Afghans have been playing for a long time.

When did you first start playing cricket and why do you like it so much?
I can’t even recall. Back home in Multan when you start walking you have a bat in your hand. My brothers, Atiq and Zeeshan, were first-class cricketers in Pakistan and that helps a lot. I still remember we used to have a very small house and around 14 cousins of mine and I used to play in the very small courtyard.

Your style is to play the ball very late. How did that come about?
I think it came because the wickets in Dubai and UAE turn in cracks and are generally very slow. Therefore if you’re early you won’t know what’s happening so you have to wait for the ball and play quite late. When you’ve been playing for a long time, you get used to this style. I’m not a hard hitting batsman, I wait and just play.

Did you have any cricketing heroes while you were growing up?
Most definitely. I used to love Saeed Anwar when he used to open for Pakistan.

Does your son play cricket?
I’m trying to push my six-year-old Zain but he’s not interested at the moment. When I go back to Pakistan for 20 days, he comes back and starts playing cricket because everybody plays there. After a month it generally dies down. In his school, there’s no cricket but in a year or so I’m going to put him in a coaching class.

What have been your best moments in cricket?
It is definitely winning the man-of-the-match against Sri Lanka where I took four wickets in the 2004 Asia Cup. Then in the game against Bangladesh in the 2008 Asia Cup I scored 78 runs.

You were captain for quite a while. When exactly did you start?
I think I was captain in the second game I played for UAE. The first game was in Canada, the second was an ACC tournament. Our original captain had to return home and after that I was appointed.

Does captaincy add to your game and make you a better player?
It depends on you. You can take advantages of choosing where you’d like to bat or when you’d bowl but as a captain you have a bigger responsibility to the youngsters in the team. I’m very cool and relaxed and always give a chance to the youngsters to develop their game. Captaincy helps my game and it’s something that’s inbuilt. I used to captain back home in Pakistan and after that in my university as well. It’s never a burden and I have a picture in my head when I’m on the field. It comes naturally.

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