Ahmed Raza admits UAE’s cricketers are hurt by the prospect of sitting by and watching a World Cup take place on their doorstep.
But the national team captain says they have already laid down a marker for qualification for the next one.
UAE completed an uplifting comeback win over Ireland in a T20 international series in Dubai on Sunday.
And yet it is the Irish, and not the host team, who will be lining up at the T20 World Cup when it starts next week.
Coincidentally, UAE also beat Ireland in the qualification competition for this World Cup, two years ago, only to miss out after they were waylaid by a corruption scandal.
Three UAE players were thrown out of the squad as part of that corruption investigation in 2019. As a result, Raza took up the captaincy, and he has been a central figure in rebuilding the game here in the time since.
Playing their first international cricket since January, the national team had initially looked rusty as they were trounced in the first match of the T20I series against Ireland.
They bounced back in imperious fashion, though, sealing the series at the ICC Academy via 54-run and seven-wicket wins – the latter of which came on Raza’s 33rd birthday.
Raza said it “feels like my greatest achievement ever since taking over the captaincy,” but acknowledged it reopened sore feelings over missing out on the World Cup.
There is another T20 World Cup due to be played in Australia in 2022, and Raza is already looking ahead to the qualifying competition at the start of next year.
“I’d be lying if I said I’m not hurting,” Raza said.
Waseem hits century against Ireland in Dubai
“I can speak on behalf of everyone and say we are all hurting. It is happening in our own backyard and we are not part of it.
“We don’t feel like we are behind any of these teams, and we could beat any of them on any given day.
“It is good that it is hurting. We can turn this into a positive, and take it into the Qualifier [for the 2022 T20 World Cup] and know how painful the feeling of missing out on a World Cup is.
“We should channel this hurt in a way that, when we go to the Qualifier in five months’ time, we turn things round and make sure we go to the next World Cup.”
Raza is right to feel optimistic about the future, given the emergence of a variety of young players within the game in the UAE, but especially the flowering of Mohammed Waseem.
The opener has forged a fine reputation for himself in domestic cricket, as well as at the Abu Dhabi T10 last season, but was making his international debut in this series.
It took him three games to get his bearings, then he exploded on to the scene with a stunning assault on Ireland’s bowlers in the deciding third game.
Waseem blazed 107 not out in 62 balls, as UAE chased 135 to win with nearly four overs to spare, and sealed it with a huge six that nearly reached the neighbouring football field.
“He is an unbelievable talent, we all know that,” Raza said of Waseem.
“We did put a lot of pressure on him. There was so much expectation on his shoulders, and maybe he felt that in the first couple of games.
“It was really important for us to let him know that it is OK to fail, but that he should play his natural game. The way he batted [in the decider] was the ideal way for him to bat.
“I can vouch for this: in terms of most Associate bowling, he can literally take them down. He just needs to back himself. We always knew he was going to win us one game.”
A more familiar face also played a key role in the decider. Rohan Mustafa had suffered the rare indignity of being left out of the side for the second match, after a tough start to the series.
Yet he thrived when he was recalled, taking three vital wickets which dragged the national team back into the game.
“The way he responded when he came back after being left out of the team shows his character,” Raza said of Mustafa.
“You need such characters in your team, and a switched on Rony [Mustafa] in the best man you could have in your team.
“What he brings to the team is very different to anybody. He is that X-Factor player.
“It was a tough call, but we did win that game, and then we won the next game with Rony’s contributions.”