From working as electrician to beating Test teams, UAE cricketer's fairytale journey

It feels like a dream, says Pakistan-born Muhammad Jawadullah who was playing only tennis ball cricket until four years ago

by

Rituraj Borkakoty

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Muhammad Jawadullah played key roles in UAE’s T20 wins over Test-playing teams New Zealand and Afghanistan. — AFP
Muhammad Jawadullah played key roles in UAE’s T20 wins over Test-playing teams New Zealand and Afghanistan. — AFP

Published: Tue 9 Jan 2024, 1:17 PM

In his own words, Muhammad Jawadullah still has to pinch himself sometimes. “It feels like a dream and I wonder if this is actually happening in my life,” the shy young man told the Khaleej Times less than 24 hours after bowling UAE to a memorable T20 win against a formidable Afghanistan team in Sharjah.

He took four wickets on Sunday, turning the match decisively in favour of the UAE which went on to clinch the thriller by 11 runs at the historic Sharjah Cricket Stadium.

Two of the Afghan batters, the hugely experienced Najibullah Zadran, and Darwish Rasooli, were bowled by his left-arm pace.

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But rattling the stumps of international batsmen was a luxury Jawadullah could not dream of when he landed in the UAE in January 2020 to work as an electrician.

He was 20 when he arrived on these shores and his cricket CV only featured tennis-ball matches in his native Pakistan.

And yet, in a remarkable turn of fortune, he is now making the proper cricket ball talk against Test-playing teams.

Muhammad Jawadullah bowls against Afghanistan. — Emirates Cricket Board
Muhammad Jawadullah bowls against Afghanistan. — Emirates Cricket Board

Last August, he was one of the heroes with a two-wicket haul (4-0-16-2) as the UAE beat the Tim Southee-led New Zealand in a T20 International.

He also bowled impressively to Joe Root, one of the greatest batsmen ever to have walked on this planet, in ILT20, the UAE’s IPL-style franchise league.

“My first over in ILT20 was against Joe Root. I was playing for the Sharjah Warriors and Root was with Dubai Capitals. This was a very big moment in my life. I was nervous when my captain gave me the ball to bowl my first over,” he said of the ILT20 match which was played in January 2023.

“I thought he (Root) would hit my every ball out of the stadium. But I did well in that over and it calmed my nerves!”

Bowling to a batting legend was only the stuff of dreams for Jawadullah three years ago when he started working in the UAE for a living.

Muhammad Jawadullah celebrates a wicket with Vriitya Aravind. — Emirates Cricket Board
Muhammad Jawadullah celebrates a wicket with Vriitya Aravind. — Emirates Cricket Board

All he was hoping for was to play a few local cricket matches in Khor Fakkan where he was based for the first seven months in the UAE.

“I juggled cricket and work, but it was still tennis-ball cricket. I was happy to play some cricket, but right from my childhood, my dream was to play hard-ball cricket,” he said.

That dream came true when a friend took him to a hard-ball match in Al Ain where he ended up taking three wickets.

“That was the start and soon I started playing club-level cricket matches in Ajman. I won a lot of matches and I got a lot of wickets. It felt very easy and natural to bowl with the hard ball,” he said.

That natural wicket-taking ability soon caught the attention of UAE’s cricket authorities who helped him play the star-studded ILT20 before handing him his first UAE cap on February 16 last year.

He has now picked 26 wickets in 19 international matches for the UAE and was one of the heroes for the New York Strikers which recently won the Abu Dhabi T10.

“I am a left-arm pace bowler, so my biggest cricket heroes are Wasim Akram and Mohammed Amir. At T10, I played with Amir and shared the new ball with him,” he said.

“It was a dream come true to play alongside Amir. I got 10 wickets in eight matches and they gave me the UAE Player of the Tournament award.”

Back home in Pakistan, his family is incredibly proud of his cricketing achievements.

“They are very happy, my parents, my siblings, they follow my matches. It’s all their prayers and blessings that I have come this far,” he said.

Muhammad Jawadullah with his friend Salik Anees. — Supplied photo
Muhammad Jawadullah with his friend Salik Anees. — Supplied photo

“Also, I can never thank one of my friends enough. His name is Salik Anees. He helped me a lot in this journey.

“I had no money sometimes, I didn’t know how I would travel from one place to another to play. But he was always there to help me.”

This young lad from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, doesn’t have to install electrical equipment for a living anymore.

“I have a contract with the Emirates Cricket Board, they are looking after me,” he said.

“They have always supported me and I want to win more matches for the UAE against good teams. This is my ambition. Another ambition is to bowl against Virat Kohli and Babar Azam and get them out!”

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