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An electrician turned cricketer, who now dreams of playing with MS Dhoni: The Muhammad Jawadullah story

By, New Delhi
Dec 10, 2023 11:50 AM IST

Muhammad Jawadullah migrated to a foreign land, balanced his day job with a passion for the game, and finally enjoyed a breakthrough 2023. This is his story.

On December 9, 2023, United Arab Emirates’ Muhammad Jawadullah prepped himself up the same way he does for every cricket match. As he stepped into the starry Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, the occasion bore witness to his silent prayers; a nod to the divine and a heartfelt remembrance of his parents back home in Pakistan. Routine it may be for Jawadullah, but this was no ordinary game. It was the pinnacle of a cricketing journey so far, marked by a relocation to foreign lands, the challenges of adapting to a new culture, a notable absence of formal cricket training, and the pursuit of recognition amid the giants of the sport. In the final of the Abu Dhabi T10 League, Jawadullah stepped out donning the colours of the New York Strikers, ready to face off against the formidable Deccan Gladiators.

Muhammad Jawadullah in action for New York Strikers(ADT10)
Muhammad Jawadullah in action for New York Strikers(ADT10)

There were nerves, of course. Jawadullah admitted that before the tournament, he “feared” the format itself. “I feared being hit for fours and sixes off every delivery. But I trusted my process and have performed well,” he would say. Yet, when the final arrived, Jawadullah emerged not as the hesitant newcomer but as a seasoned professional, armed with skills and courage. Contributing figures of 1/16 in two overs, his efforts helped Strikers restrict the Gladiators to 91/5 before chasing down the score in with four balls remaining.

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Jawadullah lifted the trophy – a first in his playing career. Hard as it may be to believe, he was yet to make a professional debut the same time last year.

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Approximately 170km to the east of Abu Dhabi lies Al-Ain, the Emirates' largest inland city. Revered as the 'Garden City' for its flourishing greenery, Al-Ain is renowned for its Camel Souks, lush oases, and diverse wildlife. It was in this vibrant backdrop that Muhammad Jawadullah sowed the seeds of his cricketing ambitions upon his arrival in the Emirates in January 2020. Originating from a humble family near Mardan, nestled in the mountainous terrain of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Jawadullah's early life was defined by a lack of opportunities—whether in cricket or stable employment. Astonishingly, he hadn't even laid hands on a seasoned cricket ball before he set foot in the UAE.

Also read: 'I was scared about the format, but trusted my process': Jawadullah confident ahead of Abu Dhabi T10 Final

“I only used to play with tennis ball earlier. But here in UAE, I got an opportunity to start playing with the hard ball,” he tells Hindustan Times in an exclusive chat.

Jawadullah secured a job as an electric contractor at Al Ain's renowned shooting club, but his fervor for the game continued to blaze brightly, even amid hardships. "Those were challenging days. Balancing a nine-hour shift as an electrician with regular cricket matches was incredibly tough. I worked during the day and played cricket in the evenings, making it my daily routine," shares Jawadullah, his voice carrying the weight of those trying times.

On certain days, he found himself engaged in two-to-three consecutive club matches, earning around 100 Dirhams per game—an amount that helped make ends meet but came at a physical cost. The toll was evident, but cricket became his solace, the means through which he faced life's challenges head-on. Yet, as a cricketer, Jawadullah remained distant from formal training; most matches in Al Ain’s club cricket were played on unforgiving cemented surfaces, which restricted his growth as a fast bowler in his formative years.

Compounding these challenges was a significant gap in awareness about fitness and dietary considerations. While players his age were put on regular diet by physios in most cricket-playing nations, Jawadullah played regularly – for over two years – without structuralised focus on fitness and skills. In the absence of proper guidance, Jawadullah unknowingly teetered on the brink of injuries, facing the risk of physical setbacks even before formally embarking on his professional cricketing career.

The turning point for Jawadullah, however, finally came in April 2022, when UAE’s national cricket team – under the coaching of former India batter Robin Singh – organised nation-wide bowling trials. Close to 600 players turned up for the trials, including the left-armer from Pakistan. The story goes that Jawadullah, with just two deliveries, left such an indelible mark on the UAE support staff that they roped the left-arm talent into their camp, despite the fact that ICC rules don’t allow a player to represent the country until they have lived in the said country for at least three years.

Asked to conjure an in-swinging delivery on his first ball, Jawadullah executed the task flawlessly, immediately capturing the attention and admiration of the scouting team. Returning to his bowling mark, the next challenge was to deliver a well-executed bumper, and once again, Jawadullah left no room for disappointment.

His raw talent spoke volumes. Recognizing the potential, the support staff decided it would keep Jawadullah in the side as a net bowler and await the completion of his three-year residency in the UAE before formally incorporating him into the squad.

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"It was my natural bowling action. I didn't even know that it was just the way my body went when I used to bowl like that back in Pakistan," says Jawadullah(ADT10)
"It was my natural bowling action. I didn't even know that it was just the way my body went when I used to bowl like that back in Pakistan," says Jawadullah(ADT10)

"Robin Singh did everything for me. I was recommended to the Sharjah Warriors because of that camp, and he brought me into the UAE team as well,” Jawadullah recalls as he looks back at the events that unfolded right before the turn to the current year.

Singh had taken over the role of head coach for the UAE cricket team in 2020. A key moment under his coaching arrived in 2022 when the team successfully qualified for the Men's T20 World Cup. However, the subsequent months saw a witnessed a stark decline in UAE’s performance. Robin Singh's periodic absences from coaching responsibilities, attributed to his commitments with the IPL franchise Mumbai Indians, became a source of added frustration within the UAE cricket community as well. Consequently, the former Indian cricketer chose to step down from his coaching – as well as a directorial – role, earlier this March.

But Robin Singh’s decision to hold a bowling trial in April 2022 did help unearth the left-armer Jawadullah, who was flown with the side in August the same year as a net bowler for the World Cricket League in Scotland – an international league organized by ICC for national teams without a Test status. Jawadullah grew in stature as a bowler, even clicking 140kph, as he began to receive formal training, consistently bowled with a season ball, and most importantly, had the professionals around him to monitor his fitness and workload.

In a fortuitous turn of events, the UAE saw its first global T20 league – the International T20 League (ILT20) – being introduced in January 2023 as well. One of the sides, Sharjah Warriors was on the lookouts for local bowling talents and R Sridhar, who was the director of cricket at the franchise, approached a member of the UAE’s support staff for the same. Jawadullah was an immediate recommendation. Warriors liked what they saw and added him into the roster, thus propelling the beginning of the youngster’s professional cricket career.

"Everyone was very happy when I was selected. My mother and father, and brother and sister, they were all very happy. My village did a grand welcome when I finally returned after 3 years,” Jawadullah says about the time he landed a professional contract with the Warriors. From playing in an amateur setup with largely cemented wickets a few months ago, Jawadullah was suddenly rubbing shoulders with World Cup winners like Moeen Ali and Marcus Stoinis, as well as star cricketers like Mohammad Nabi, Dawid Malan, and Chris Woakes, among others. Jawadullah did have to wait for his first wicket – it came in his fourth match in the league – but wasn’t overtly expensive in any of the previous three games, thus keeping captain Moeen’s faith. Eventually, he picked Alex Hales for his maiden scalp; how many can boast about dismissing a World Cup winner for their first-ever wicket in professional cricket?

Jawadullah played in 7 matches for the side in the tournament's maiden season, picking 5 wickets but registering an impressive economy rate of 7.47. Moeen Ali called him a find of the season, and the youngster was duly retained by the side ahead of the 2023/24 season. "It was a very big thing for me, when Moeen Ali said that. I felt very proud, particularly because it was my first tournament,” recalls Jawadullah.

Immediately following the ILT20, Jawadullah received a maiden UAE call-up for the T20Is against Afghanistan. In the international stage, though, he didn’t have to wait long for his maiden wicket; Afsar Zazai, the Afghan wicketkeeper-batter, fell prey to a short-pitched delivery from Jawadullah on 48. Afghanistan did manage to win the game, but Jawadullah had already been taking massive strides in his cricketing career.

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Even though it has been a year for Jawadullah in senior cricket, an unpolished bowling action remains a vivid reminder of his humble beginnings in the game. The distinct double hop in Jawadullah's action serves as evidence that he lacked formal training during his early cricketing days. Many cricket coaches would perceive this as a potential issue, and even Jawadullah himself acknowledges the unconventional nature of his bowling action with a mischievous smile on his face.

"It was my natural bowling action. I didn't even know that it was just the way my body went when I used to bowl like that back in Pakistan. Here, when I saw the actual footages of my bowling, I started laughing. But this is natural to me, and I won't change that,” says Jawadullah. And there is little need to change; He has picked 15 wickets in 12 T20Is, as well as 6 wickets in 5 fifty-over games for the UAE so far.

Following the series against Afghanistan, Jawadullah's cricketing journey soared to new heights as he earned a maiden ODI call-up spot for the series against West Indies. He was eventually selected for the 2023 ODI World Cup qualifiers in Zimbabwe as well, where a stellar performance against Nepal, where he claimed three wickets for 46 runs, showcased his growing prowess.

In the T20Is, Jawadullah solidified his position in the XI, and his breakthrough moment arrived during the bilateral series against New Zealand in August. In the first T20I, he dismissed Kiwi regulars Tim Seifert and Rachin Ravindra, contributing to his figures of 2/16 in four overs—the most economical among all bowlers. This remarkable performance played a pivotal role in UAE scripting a historic upset, as they triumphed over New Zealand by 7 wickets.

Following UAE’s win against Nepal in the tri-nation series later October, Jawadullah began preparations for the Abu Dhabi T10 League, where he was signed up by the New York Strikers. "Thanks to god. I hadn't played in any league before this year. And in 2023 itself, I've played two; the ILT20 and now the T10. Earlier, I used to play in local leagues in Al-Ain and had to struggle hard towards achieving my targets. Now that I'm a professional cricketer, my focus has become more singular,” says the UAE star.

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At one point in Pakistan’s history, not too long ago, the country cultivated fast bowlers with the precision of tending to a crop. While the 90s saw the famed Wasim Akram-Waqar Younis duo annihilating batting orders, the turn of the century witnessed the peak of the likes of Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Asif, and Mohammad Sami. Among the promising talents was Mohammad Amir, whose trajectory to becoming a world-class bowler was briefly interrupted by his involvement in spot-fixing.

Amir's return after a five-year ban saw him spearheading Pakistan's pace attack, leading them to victory in the 2017 Champions Trophy. While his standing with the team management fluctuated in recent years, his role in Pakistan's resurgence post the departure of legends like Shoaib Akhtar, Younis Khan, and Mohammad Yousuf remained unmistakable.

For emerging bowlers, especially left-armers like Jawadullah, Amir became a beacon to follow closely. Jawadullah didn't just track Amir's career from a distance. Fate smiled upon him when he found himself sharing the dressing room with the former Pakistani star during the Abu Dhabi T10 stint. To call this experience a dream come true for Jawadullah would be an understatement, as it marked an invaluable opportunity to glean insights from one of Pakistan's pace maestros.

"I thank to god for that (sharing dressing room with Amir). I was so happy with him being in my team. Whenever I faced any difficulty, I talked to him. It actually felt quite surreal… when someone who I looked up to as an idol praised my bowling,” Jawadullah stated.

With the way Jawadullah has progressed in his first year, there will undeniably be opportunities in overseas leagues for the star pacer. Like most, the UAE star does want to play in the Indian Premier League as well. When asked if there’s a favourite, he said with a sheepish smile, “Vo Dhoni ka team (MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings).”

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