When rain washed away their hopes of causing an upset at the 2020 Under 19 World Cup, the UAE’s leading young cricketers might have feared their chance of a statement win on the global stage had gone.
The national age-group side were promisingly positioned in a run-chase against hosts South Africa when a storm ended their chances two years ago.
While the majority of the squad have since moved on to senior cricket, three players still remain to take up the fight on their World Cup return.
Alishan Sharafu, Kai Smith and Ali Naseer are the three senior players in an otherwise new-look squad who are bidding to erase the hurt of 2020 at the competition in the Caribbean this month.
UAE start their campaign against Canada on Saturday in St Kitts. The Canadians were the opposition when UAE claimed their lone win last time at the competition. That is followed by pool fixtures against England and Bangladesh, who are the defending champions.
Smith, the 17-year-old opener, says his side are not putting a limit on their expectations for the competition.
“I think that last time we had a great chance of winning that game but were pretty unlucky with something that is out of our control,” Smith said.
“It hurts and still does to this day because we all truly believe that we have a shot at beating the favourites of the tournament, and therefore qualifying to the playoffs for the first in history.
“However, we all have to put that behind us and focus on seizing the moment this tournament, game by game, ball by ball.
“I feel that we have a very passionate and determined team, ready to make a statement and rewrite the history books by winning this thing because we have so much potential as a group and can do some real damage if we all play our roles and as a team.”
Smith says the disappointment of two years ago made those involved stronger.
“I feel like that tournament has made us grow and develop as cricketers and people, encouraging us to work harder than ever to compete with the best and always stay on top of our game,” he said.
“It has also taught us some key principles that you will need in life like resilience, perseverance, leadership, accountability, belief and patience.
“With the hardships faced last World Cup I feel that me and Alishan, as the two seniors of the team have an opportunity to pass these lessons on to some of the youngsters to prevent those mistakes made, and also build on our strengths overall making us a more competitive, stronger team.”
Smith’s talent for cricket last year led to him relocating from Dubai, where he was born and raised, to the UK.
Since moving to attend boarding school he has also been involved in county cricket, which included keeping wicket against England fast-bowler Chris Woakes in Warwickshire’s second XI.
The England fixture at the World Cup will pit him against a number of players he played with and against last summer, and he said it will be “an amazing opportunity to compete against them, and I will be pushing myself to the limit”.
Smith’s tour started in the best possible fashion. He struck 145 in a mammoth win over Papua New Guinea in the UAE’s opening warm up match, and he said optimism is coursing through the side after that success.
“We said it before and will say it again, we only have one goal: to make sure our hands are on that cup,” Smith said.
“We don’t see ourselves as an Associate nation. We have true potential as a team and won't stand down to any bullies. We will fight till the last ball is bowled.
“Personally that's what I want to try and get out of our team but also to learn as much as I can from this once in a lifetime opportunity.
"I want to make mistakes and learn from them in order to grow as a player and as a person.”