Cricket World Cup diary: UAE ready to return home after memorable but gruelling tournament

Paul Radley is in Australia and New Zealand during the cricket World Cup to follow the UAE. Here is his look back at his fourth week with the team.

The UAE cricket team would have missed some of the more stunning sights in New Zealand, such as Mount Tongariro, having been flown around. Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images
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Day 22


An object lesson in the differences between the psychology of seasoned international cricketers and those who are new to tournament play, at the day’s pre-match news conference.

South Africa lost the last time they played, against Pakistan, and earlier had been soundly beaten by India, who top the group.

Yet AB de Villiers, their captain, says he “100 per cent” believes they are the best team in the tournament. Maybe he does. The evidence provided by New Zealand, India and Australia, though, suggests not everybody should share his view.

Contrast that with Mohammed Tauqir, who works in a bank when he is not serving as the UAE captain at the World Cup, who happily joked about cunning plans to hold South Africa under 400 runs. Realism and humour trumps generic psychobabble any day of the week.

Day 23

Wellington – South Africa beat UAE by 146 runs

In 2001, when Peter Jackson was filming The Lord of the Rings trilogy, he attended a cricket match at The Cake Tin, Wellington’s multi-sport stadium, to get some sound effects.

He asked the 30,000 crowd at a one-day international between New Zealand and England to whisper, then stamp their feet, then shout. The noises were subsequently dubbed over images of charging orcs.

If the director had tried the same thing at today’s World Cup meeting between the UAE and South Africa at the same venue, he would have got some decent material for a silent movie.

Why this encounter, between two neutral sides – one, in the UAE’s case, of little international renown – was scheduled to be played at this stadium is anyone’s guess.

This ground rarely sells out even when New Zealand play. If the World Cup is about selling the product, the wares on offer must be yellow plastic seats, as they are ubiquitous at this game.

Day 24

Wellington – Palmerston North

With such a short turnaround between their final fixtures, the UAE fly the 270 kilometres from the capital to Napier.

They do not know what they are missing. Taking State Highway 2 may be a long ride, but it passes through chocolate-box landscapes.

Not that it warrants mention in the guide books. Nothing so spectacular as Mount Tongariro, or the Fox Glacier out here. When remarkable scenery is the standard, presumably the rest is not worth remarking on.

Schedule in a night stop more or less halfway, in Palmerston North. This is mainly to take in the Super Rugby fixture between Wellington’s Hurricanes, exiled while the cricket is being played at their usual home ground, and Auckland’s Blues.

The local press corps look like they have seen someone with three heads when they find out the interloper in the media tribune is from a UAE newspaper. Do they play rugby there, then?

At the New Zealand Rugby Museum, which is barely a mile from the Arena Manawatu ground, there is a world map with the respective flags pinned to all the nations where rugby is played. There is not one for the UAE.

Roelof Kotze, the UAE performance manager, might want to send a memo to the curator.

Day 25

Palmerston North – Napier

Somewhat shamefully, for a resident of Dubai, the weather today in eastern New Zealand is sweltering to the point of being uncomfortable.

It feels tropical, rather than the usual temperate summer days which have gone before. All forecasts suggest it is the calm before the storm.

Cyclone Pam has ravaged Vanuatu, the island nation to the north of New Zealand. A meteorologist on the radio says it is the most substantial cyclone to hit the Pacific in 40 years.

The emergency weather warning has led to the residents of Napier to make preparations. At the petrol station, the man at the checkout says it has been a quiet day, other than for a run on gas bottles.

Day 26

Napier – West Indies beat UAE by six wickets

Here ends the UAE’s World Cup journey. By the national team’s standards, it has been an epic.

It started here in Napier, the best part of two months ago, when they had some preparatory matches against the local side, Central Districts.

They have never been away from home so long, living in each other’s pockets and out of suitcases.

A voyage of discovery they will remember for the rest of their lives? Of course, but they do look ready for home.

They have been battered, bruised and are unquestionably flagging.

The bowler Fahad Al Hashmi suffered cruciate ligament damage in the game against South Africa, and flew home a few days before the squad are scheduled to return.

Once he is done with all the formalities of the news conference at the end of today’s loss to West Indies, catch a word with Mohammed Tauqir, the captain, to say well done on the fight they have put up.

Asked if he has enjoyed it, he merely offers a look, as if to say, “Well … so-so.”

The players are done with this trip now.

Day 27


The deluge from Cyclone Pam has arrived. As such, Napier has that feeling peculiar to seaside resorts on wintry days: as much as it tries to appear happy, it struggles to pass it off.

The par-2 miniature golf course by the shoreline is waterlogged. Beyond that, it is not obvious where the grey sea meets the sky.

The next land this ocean touches, due east of here, is Chile, 9,100km away. Despite that length of fetch, the water was like a millpond this time last week.

Not so now.

The swell is enormous. Even Kelly Slater would not fancy it. The sets are too messy for any surfers to be interested anyway.

In keeping with the grim feeling of the day, notice a particularly morbid shop in town, in the part of Napier where 1930s art deco starts to give way to the modern carbuncles of supermarkets and fast-food joints.

It is called Headstone World, and is kind of like a Toys “R” Us for gravestones.

Day 28

Napier – Wanganui

ICC events have a hard-earned reputation for high-handedness. The 2007 World Cup, for example, lacked much of the atmosphere that usually prevails at matches in the Caribbean because supporters were barred from bringing musical instruments to matches.

Four years later, residents neighbouring the host venue in Colombo were told they were not allowed to leave their laundry out, so as not to spoil the view.

Happily, New Zealand seems to be mercifully light on pettifoggers, but this tournament has managed to put some supporters offside.

Seven Sikh supporters were reportedly prohibited from entering Auckland’s Eden Park for India’s match against Zimbabwe for wearing kirpans, the ceremonial dagger.

A complaint has been lodged with the Human Rights Commission, on the grounds of unlawful discrimination on the basis of religion. Even the New Zealand prime minister, John Key, has commented on the issue.

“If you want to make the case that someone could cause harm with that, they’re probably much more likely to be able to cause harm with anything else you can get at the grounds,” he is quoted as saying in today’s newspapers.

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