It was only eight years ago that Chundangapoyil Rizwan failed in his attempt to play Ranji Trophy, India’s premier domestic cricket tournament, for Kerala.
Rizwan never broke into the playing eleven despite being on Kerala's team roster for two years.
But it was a failure that failed to break his spirit.
So when Rizwan reached these shores in 2014, he had two goals – find a job and play domestic cricket here to earn a shot at representing the UAE in international cricket.
The batting all-rounder, who also has an engineering degree, found support from many people when he was trying to find his feet in the UAE.
One of them was Khalaf Bukhatir, Managing Director of Bukhatir Group and CEO of Sharjah Cricket Stadium, who offered him a job in his company and a chance to play for his team in the Bukhatir League, the UAE’s most prestigious domestic tournament.
It was a chance that Rizwan grabbed with both hands, producing consistent performances that eventually saw his dream come true.
On January 26, 2019, Rizwan made his international debut for the UAE. Two years later, he scored a stunning match-winning ODI hundred against Ireland, a Test-playing team, in Abu Dhabi.
It was an innings that made him an instant hero at Thalassery, his hometown, with people putting up his posters to celebrate the first international centurion from Kerala.
Now, the 34-year-old Rizwan, who had also led Kerala’s Under-25 team, has reached a new landmark in his remarkable journey, having become the UAE T20 captain.
“It’s been a memorable journey, I was part of the Kerala Ranji Trophy squad and then I went on to play international cricket for the UAE. Now I will be leading an international team, it definitely is a huge honour,” Rizwan told the Khaleej Times from Oman.
“But with that comes responsibility. I will try to do well and bring laurels to the country. I would also like to thank the Emirates Cricket Board and our coach for placing their trust in me and I would try to give my best to repay the trust.”
Rizwan’s first task will be to help the team qualify for the Asia Cup, which will be held in the UAE from August 27 to September 11.
The team start their campaign in the Asia Cup qualifying tournament against Kuwait in Oman on Sunday before taking on Singapore (Monday) and Hong Kong (Wednesday).
The winner of this four-team qualifying tournament will get into Asia Cup Group A to play against two of the best teams in the world, India and Pakistan.
“It is definitely a great motivation for the boys to be able to play against these big teams. Many of the players in the UAE team were born in India and Pakistan. Having said that we are not looking too far ahead. We will take one step at a time,” said Rizwan who had also played against Karun Nayar, Mayank Agarwal and Ravindra Jadeja in Indian domestic tournaments.
Having already qualified for the 2022 T20 World Cup (October 16-November 13, Australia), the UAE team, according to Rizwan, is on the right track in the shortest format of the game.
“We play a lot of domestic T20 competitions in the UAE, so we know this format very well,” he said.
“Head coach Robin Singh Sir has been guiding us in a great manner, we believe in his work ethic and we have put in a lot of hard work.”
Rizwan is also banking on the support from his well-wishers in Kerala.
“My UAE captaincy has made them very happy. It's a very happy moment for them too because they have been following and supporting my game ever since I took baby steps in cricket,” he said.
“Now, their prayers will be needed for our team.”
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