Ahmed Raza praises UAE players after packed schedule: 'I think we've earned a break'

National team played 19 matches in 44 days, and their captain said it was mission accomplished - mostly

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Played 19, won 13, lost five, and tied one. As always with cricket, the bare stats scarcely tell the whole story of what has happened to UAE cricket over the past six-and-a-bit weeks.

In the space of 44 days, the national team played more than three times the amount of cricket they did in the whole of 2021, when Covid restricted them to a mere six games.

By the end of it, they were running on fumes, yet still managed to put Nepal away and grab two more precious points towards qualifying for the next 50-over World Cup.

In the space of those 44 days, UAE had achieved their primary aim. Namely, booking a place at the T20 World Cup in Australia later this year after reaching the final – and dominating that, too – in the Qualifier in Muscat.

They got another trophy, besides, by winning a T20 quadrangular series involving Oman, Nepal and Ireland.

For the first time, one of their players was nominated for the ICC’s monthly award. Vriitya Aravind, the student wicketkeeper-batsman, was robbed of the title of player of the month for February by India’s Shreyas Iyer. But, still, to be mentioned in such company represents progress.

Chirag Suri might have joined him among the nominees, so good was his form last month. Basil Hameed, Rohan Mustafa and Junaid Siddique should figure heavily in the thinking for the March award, too, given their exploits in back-to-back series in Cricket World Cup League 2.

These are heady times for the country’s leading cricketers. And just a little bit tiring, too, according to captain Ahmed Raza.

“It is not so much physical as mental,” Raza said. “We had a tough month in the World Cup Qualifier.

“We started off playing against Oman [in a bilateral one-day international series in which UAE won twice and tied the other]. They were really, really close games, and that takes its toll as well.

“After 19 games, I think we’ve earned a break. We haven’t achieved everything we wanted in terms of the goals we set ourselves. But we are happy to take five wins out of eight.”

Raza rated his side’s achievements as “eight out of 10” over the packed period of matches. Muscat represented mission accomplished, but he felt there had been points there for the taking in two defeats to Oman, and one to Papua New Guinea, in the 50-over league games played in Dubai.

“The Oman losses will hurt me more than the PNG game,” Raza said.

“We didn’t really turn up for the PNG game, but those points dropped against Oman will hurt me a lot more because we were right in those games. I could have won one of them for my team.

“Five wins out of eight is still a top effort, especially for the fast bowlers who performed day in, day out, right up to the last day of the series. That takes a hell of a lot of effort.”

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It might not be a unique situation for them this year, either. Before heading off for holidays after the tri-series involving Nepal and PNG, UAE’s players were being booked in to attend the United States embassy as part of the visa process for their next World Cup league assignment. They are set to face USA and Scotland in Florida at the end of May.

August and September could be a hefty workload depending on how they fare in Asia Cup qualifying. They are due to fly straight from a 50-over tri-series in Scotland to Sri Lanka for the Asia Cup Qualifier with Kuwait, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Navigate that, and they would be pitted into competition with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

All of which would be the precursor to playing at the T20 World Cup in Australia in October.

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As Raza points out, the stress on fast bowlers will be particularly acute. Happily for the national team, their quicks excelled given the extra workload of late.

In particular, Siddique, a fast bowler who was deprived cricket at the start of 2021 because of lower back injury, but who has bounced back to become the leader of UAE’s attack.

In the final game of the series of 19, he produced a ball to dismiss Nepal’s Dipendra Singh Airee which he deemed the best he has ever bowled in his life. That was one of a haul of four wickets in the game, his best yet in ODI cricket.

“Producing such a spell right at the end of the run of 19 games takes a lot of skill and a lot of heart,” Raza said.

“Junaid has proven he is our main strike bowler with the kind of starts he has given us.”

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Updated: March 23, 2022, 1:04 PM