UAE cricket captain's parents cherish 'perfect gift' from him on their 20th anniversary

'You have to win against Pakistan, I don't need any other gift,' Aayan Afzal Khan's mother told him before the Under 19 Asia Cup semifinal in Dubai

by

Rituraj Borkakoty

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UAE captain Aayan Afzal Khan with his father Afzal Khan, mother Shahista Khan, and sister Afsha, after the team’s stunning win over Pakistan. — Supplied photo
UAE captain Aayan Afzal Khan with his father Afzal Khan, mother Shahista Khan, and sister Afsha, after the team’s stunning win over Pakistan. — Supplied photo

Published: Wed 20 Dec 2023, 11:22 AM

Aayan Afzal Khan was only four when he was rejected by a sports academy for being too small to learn the art of cricket under professional coaches.

On Friday evening, he led the UAE to their biggest victory in history.

Skipper Aayan was inspirational as the UAE pulled off a shock win over Pakistan in the Under-19 Asia Cup semifinals in Dubai.

Having become the last man to fall after scoring a stirring 55 off 57 balls, guiding the UAE to a respectable total of 193 all out, Aayan delivered a miserly spell (10-1-31-0) with his left-arm spin and used his resources brilliantly as captain to bowl Pakistan out for 182.

This was the 18-year-old bowling all-rounder’s third straight man-of-the-match performance at the 2023 Under 19 Asia Cup.

It was also a performance that ended Pakistan's unbeaten run in the tournament.

Aayan Afzal Khan celebrates his half century against Pakistan. — X
Aayan Afzal Khan celebrates his half century against Pakistan. — X

His father, Afzal Khan, who once left his day job to become a full-time cricket coach to help him become a professional cricketer, was over the moon.

“Yesterday (Thursday) was our 20th marriage anniversary and he gave us the perfect gift,” Afzal told the Khaleej Times.

His wife Shahista Khan had tears in her eyes when Aayan became the youngest player in history to play in a T20 World Cup match last year.

After the unforgettable match on Friday, she revealed what she had asked from her son.

"After the match against Japan on Wednesday, he said he would give me a gift for our 20th anniversary," Shahista said.

"I said 'you have to win against Pakistan, I don't need any other gift'. He said, 'Inshallah'."

Shahista never stops praying when Aayan is playing a match for the country.

"I think it's the result of his hard work, his father's sacrifices and my prayers and prayers of my mother. You know when Aayan plays well, the UAE always win. It makes me so emotional because this is a journey that started when he was only four," said Shahista whose daughter, Afsha, is also a promising cricketer.

Afzal says even the extended family was also anxiously following the scores in the UAE's semifinal against Pakistan.

“Everybody in the family was following. My family members from all over the world, my cousins, my nieces, everybody was watching and sending him their best wishes,” Afzal said.

Team effort

The Aayan-led UAE team had already beaten Sri Lanka, another Test-playing team, in the tournament.

But beating Pakistan, which had dominated every team in the group stages, including a crushing win over arch-rivals India, was a different ball game.

“It’s a great moment for the UAE, what they have achieved, beating a team like Pakistan is actually unbelievable,” Afzal said.

Chasing 194, Pakistan looked set for a comfortable win when they reached 105 for two in the 23rd over.

But the Pakistanis suffered a stunning batting collapse, losing five wickets for just 16 runs as the UAE held their nerve to record a historic win in a rip-roaring contest.

“It was terrific, the way they bowled and fielded. The bowlers kept it tight and the captain (Aayan) made some good bowling changes," Afzal said.

"It was a very small total, so to defend it against a Test-playing team like Pakistan was not a joke. But they did that today. It was a brilliant effort from the team.”

Skipper Aayan (right) celebrates a wicket against Pakistan with his teammates. — X
Skipper Aayan (right) celebrates a wicket against Pakistan with his teammates. — X

Fearless cricketer

This UAE under-19 team is also led by someone who plays a fearless brand of cricket.

Aayan also has a knack of producing historic results.

It was only in August this year that this talented teenager delivered a match-winning performance against New Zealand with a three-wicket haul in the senior UAE team's first-ever T20 win over a Test-playing nation.

For a spinner, he is also not afraid of opening the bowling in T20 cricket.

Again it was Afzal, a former state-level cricketer in India, who was responsible for his son’s fearless approach on a cricket field.

“I put the fear out of his system when he was eight. I got him to play with the 10-year-olds when he was eight. Then when he was 10, I made him play with the 12-year-olds. That’s why he was always mentally strong,” Afzal said.

“He never sees the name of the opposition, even if they are a Test nation. The main thing is your own performance. If you perform well, there will always be a chance of winning a game of cricket, no matter how big the opponent is,” the veteran coach said.

“So this is the spirit he shows in every match that he plays. He had a chat with me on Thursday night. I told him, ‘Yes, it’s Pakistan, but you don’t worry, just go out and play sensibly. You will get the results. Don’t go to the match thinking like they (Pakistan) have big pace bowlers who can bowl at 140’.

“I asked him to keep his mind fresh and go for it. That’s what he did in the match."

Afzal, who coaches at the Ace Cricket Academy in Sharjah, now wants his son to lead from the front in Sunday’s final against Bangladesh at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.

“I have asked him to be positive and go for the trophy,” he said.

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