Five reasons the UAE national cricket team are enjoying an upturn in fortunes
UAE’s win over Papua New Guinea was the country’s first four-day international win in almost four years. Paul Radley gives five reasons why UAE cricket might finally be on the upswing. Click or swipe through for more.
ABU DHABI // It is difficult to know whether, after two years in the doldrums, we finally have our national cricket team back. Making definitive proclamations on the back of a series win over a Papua New Guinea side light on competitive cricket, and a first four-day win in three-and-a-half years might be premature. But, at the very least, the first four months of 2017 have provided reason for cautious optimism. Namibia, Scotland, Hong Kong and PNG have been beaten. There have been losses to Afghanistan, Ireland and PNG, too, but the win-loss ratio is up markedly on the previous 18 months. There are five significant factors that have stood out about the national team’s recent upturn in fortunes.
Rameez Shahzad, pictured, and Mohammed Usman can be the dynamos of the UAE middle-order, in the mode of Saqib Ali and Khurram Khan circa 2014. They clearly have the potential. As of the past month, they have started to turn potential into match-winning turns, too. Rameez set up the opening win in the one-day series against PNG with 87, and scored a vital 63 in the four-day match that followed. Despite grieving for his mother, who died in February, Usman’s form has been consistently fine, capped by the century he made at a sweltering Zayed Cricket Stadium on Saturday. “Mohammed Usman has really embraced what we have been looking to achieve as a coaching team,” Dougie Brown, the interim UAE coach, said.
The fortunes of two of Associate cricket’s leading leg spinners were starkly contrasted on Sunday. Over in the Indian Premier League, the Afghan whizkid Rashid Khan was bowling Sunrisers Hyderabad to victory over Gujarat Lions in front of a frenzied crowd. In Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, Imran Haider was whirling away in front of literally zero spectators. The world was missing a treat. The UAE have unearthed a real gem this year, with Haider’s emergence. Against PNG, on a wearing third and fourth-day pitch, he was captivating, confirming the UAE have added a notable weapon to their bowling armory.
It is great to hear the professional deals on offer to UAE cricket’s leading players as of last year are sought after. When Saqlain Haider (pictured centre), the un-contracted wicketkeeper, made a ton against PNG, he wanted it known he hoped to force the Emirates Cricket Board’s hand into giving him a deal. He is lucky enough not to need one. He has a good job at United Bank Limited, and is studying for a masters in finance beside. Yet he covets one, because he wants to be the best cricketer he can be for the UAE. “From not being involved in this team, to come in and get a hundred the way he did, batting at No 7, was outstanding,” Brown said.
In the last over of Day 3 of the Intercontinental Cup match, the UAE had a cordon of nine slips, and no fielders anywhere else on the huge playing area. PNG were still in the game at the time, 95 runs behind, but with six wickets still in the bank. It seemed a bolshie move by the home team. It was bordering on showboating. More than anything else, it showed belief was back coursing through the team. Much of that is down to UAE-raised captain Rohan Mustafa, pictured, who matched a record of the great Viv Richards last week, when he scored a hundred and took five-wickets in the same one-day international match.
Some say team spirit is an illusion only glimpsed in victory. Maybe so, but there was plenty of it visible before the UAE had reached that point in the Intercontinental Cup match. Qadeer Ahmed, the seam bowler, had been enjoying his best performance for the UAE to date before his game was curtailed by a fractured thumb. Yet he stuck around, and was even kitted up and ready to go, batting at No 11, if it had have meant helping Saqlain reach his century on Sunday. While Saqlain navigated the 90s, Qadeer was shadow batting in the UAE players’ area, trying to figure out the best way to bat one-handed. Had he been required, it would have been a little like Colin Cowdrey going out to face Wes Hall with a cast on his arm — albeit with none of the glory or acclaim. And all to help out a mate. “I’ve been lucky to be involved with a number of successful teams,” Brown, pictured left, said. “This team spirit that we are getting — we are still not quite there — is as good as I can remember anywhere, if I’m totally honest.”
UAE v Papua New Guinea
Wednesday, 10am, First T20
Friday, 9.30am, Second T20
Friday, 2.30pm, Third T20
All at Zayed Cricket Stadium, Abu Dhabi. Admission is free
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Updated: April 11, 2017 04:00 AM