‘Life has come full circle’ for Raza as he leads UAE back to Australia for T20 World Cup

National team captain suffered heartache when he missed out on the 2015 World Cup – but paid his own way to attend as a supporter

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Ahmed Raza fought back tears after becoming the third captain to lead UAE to a World Cup in cricket, pointing out: “The struggle has been real.”

Minutes earlier, the Sharjah-born spin bowler had knelt in prayer after taking his fifth wicket of the T20 World Cup semi-final against Nepal in Muscat.

Moments after that, most of his teammates had been doing the same at various points of the field, after the final wicket had fallen in their 68-run win.

Victory meant the UAE can start booking flights to Australia for the main event in October.

Raza has been there before. For the 2015 World Cup, he went to Perth and Brisbane as a supporter of the UAE team, despite nursing a broken heart over missing out on the squad.

“The struggle has been real,” said Raza, who took 5-19 in the win over Nepal.

“The last time I went to a World Cup was in 2014 [the T20 World Cup in Bangladesh], and I didn’t make it to Australia in 2015. So this was very special and very emotional.

“It was surreal when everything was falling into place for us. I was thinking: the game is not over yet, the game is not over yet. At the back of my mind, I knew it was.

“In that moment, it felt like my life has come full circle now. Last time UAE played, I wasn’t in the squad, but I still went there.

“Life is taking me back there now, hopefully still as captain of UAE. I helped my team to qualify, and there are not many captains who have done that for UAE in the past.

“I feel part of an elite group now. It is a huge achievement, and it is a very emotional one because it has been a very long journey.”

UAE have been to three World Cups before. Sultan Zarawani led the side to their debut on the global stage back in 1996.

Khurram Khan was captain as the side qualified for both the T20 version in 2014 and the 2015 one-day international format – even if he did cede the role for the latter to Mohammed Tauqir by the time the competition came around.

Each of those leaders faced their own challenges, but the one facing Raza when he took the reins was particularly monumental. He was handed the captaincy in the midst of the biggest crisis ever witnessed in the game in the emirates.

Three players were thrown out of the squad for corruption on the eve of the 2019 T20 Qualifier, including the captain Mohammed Naveed. In the time since, seven senior players have been banned for a combined total of 49 years for corruption.

All the while, Raza was busy constructing a new young side to represent the country where he was born and raised.

“If you look back at 2019, it started with Vriitya [Aravind], Karthik [Meiyappan], Junaid [Siddique],” Raza said.

“I remember handing out five debut caps in one of the games. Then we came here to Oman for the Asia Cup Qualifier, we were handing out caps in every single game.

“From there, to the place we are now, huge credit goes to everyone who has been involved in the journey. Especially the backroom staff and us senior players.

“It was us who had to lift everyone. We have been blessed with some great youngsters, who have come into their own in this tournament.”

One of those youngsters, Aravind, extended his lead at the top of the run-scoring charts in the Qualifier with another spellbinding effort against Nepal. He blazed 46 in 23 balls to set UAE on their way to an imposing total of 175-7.

Muhammad Waseem top scored with a sparkling 70 from 48 balls, then took three catches as Nepal were bowled out for 107.

“We have kept believing in ourselves and we have done it,” Waseem said. “It is a dream come true, Alhamdulillah, and we will try to do our best in Australia.”

Updated: February 23, 2022, 5:25 AM