T20 World Cup: CP Rizwan looks to bright future for UAE cricket after adversity

National team arrived at the party too late in Australia but captain sees plenty of reason for optimism

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It was understandable the emotions were racing. He had just helmed his side to a first World Cup win for more than a quarter of a century. Yet they would still be on the next plane home.

He had come into some runs himself, but it was too late. The party was over, and it felt as though they had only just arrived.

Amid it all, CP Rizwan was doing his best to convey his feelings. So he settled on a version of his favourite verse from the Quran: after every hardship comes ease.

Rizwan had just joined an exclusive club. Only Sultan Zarawani, the Emirati businessman who was the driving force behind taking UAE to their first World Cup in 1996, had previously overseen a win for the country at a global event.

Clearly, wins like this are precious. They deserve to be celebrated. And yet it felt like the minimum for what the side should have achieved in Australia.

The national team were a well-oiled machine in qualifying for this tournament. They dispatched Ireland in the final of the Qualifier in Muscat back in February, the last of five wins in a row against the Irish, who are a full-Test nation and regular attendees of World Cups.

In the short format, they were purring. Eight wins out of 10, achieved with a settled squad and a canny captain.

Then, just before the Asia Cup and the T20 World Cup – back-to-back competitions in September then October – a leadership change was foist on them.

The decision to bin Ahmed Raza as captain was harsh on two very good men. Obviously, on the previous incumbent, but his successor, too.

Rizwan might be a good captain. He might not be. Eight games is nothing like a fair sample size to judge him on. And it is in no way enough time to impress his philosophy on his side.

So far, his side have managed two wins, against Singapore and Namibia, while defeats have come against Kuwait and Hong Kong, as well as the game’s elite.

CP Rizwan fields against Netherlands during the T20 World Cupin  Australia. AP Photo

The man he was replacing was the most successful captain in UAE cricket history, with a win percentage of 66. But Raza failed as a captain first, to the extent he had the armband taken away from him in 2015.

When he returned, he acknowledged he – and the side he was leading – had not been ready. He heeded the lessons and did a masterful job second time around, in a time of great challenges.

To carry the side from a corruption crisis all the way to qualifying for a World Cup – with a global pandemic thrown in as an extra challenge in the meantime – was extraordinary.

Initially, his removal from the captaincy was explained as “succession planning”. Succeeded, as Raza was, by a player four months his senior.

Then, on the eve of the pivotal game of the World Cup, coach Robin Singh had to clarify the actual reasoning. He said it was not the forum for that discussion. He was right – the issue should have been addressed publicly eight weeks earlier, but it wasn’t.

He said it was based on the fact the captain needs to be sure of his place in the XI. There is justification for that. Raza himself had said many times that there was a coming wave of players pushing for his place.

In a 50-50 selection call, Raza’s leadership skills and tactical nous would always win him the vote. But the rapid progress of the likes of Karthik Meiyappan, Aryan Lakra, and the schoolboy prodigy Aayan Khan could not be held at bay any longer.

The fact Raza appreciates that was evident in the eloquence with which he spoke about Meiyappan and Aayan in an ICC video after the former’s hat-trick against Sri Lanka. It was a classy touch, given they had prevented him having any game time until that point. He would have been forgiven for feeling bitter.

But the theory for the change falls down when considering Rizwan had been out of the T20 squad entirely before he was made captain.

Restored to the side, he struggled to find exactly the right niche for himself in a batting line up which had hitherto been overly reliant on its top three.

Then, finally, after the sort of toil which would have tested the resolve of the very strongest of characters, he made his mark. He was a good foil for both Muhammad Waseem and Basil Hameed in vital stands against Namibia – yet still struck at 148 himself as he made 43 not out.

It meant the UAE posted the sort of total they had wanted all the way through the competition, yet struggled to deliver.

“I always believe that after every struggle there is ease,” Rizwan said.

“I was not batting in the position I really wanted, but I can’t complain. I am really happy to play a good innings for the team when it was really needed.”

UAE's Aayan Khan, 16, bats during the T20 World Cup match against   Netherlands at Kardinia Park, in Geelong. AFP

With something to bowl at, he was able to express himself as a tactician, too. With Kashif Daud out of the side, he needed to find someone to bowl against the mighty David Wiese in the death overs. He called up the part time seam of Waseem – and it worked.

“We have always believed in his ability,” Rizwan said. “We have played together in domestic cricket in UAE, and I have seen him nailing yorkers like anything, so I have always had trust in him.

“What better moment could you have to nail your yorker, and get the big wicket of Wiese? I am really happy for him and the team.”

So what now for that team? Whatever happened before, it is Rizwan’s team now and it oozes potential.

Meiyappan, Aayan, Lakra, Vriitya Aravind and Alishan Sharafu – each of whom were not yet born the last time UAE registered a World Cup win – need to be backed for the long term.

All have memories to cherish forever from their first World Cups. Meiyappan and Aayan were history makers, as the UAE’s first T20 hat-trick taker and the youngest ever T20 World Cup player respectively.

Lakra got the wicket which punctured the Sri Lanka onslaught in the second game. Aaravind was the star of the TV adverts trailing UAE’s matches. And Sharafu showed unbelievable poise in taking the crucial catch of Wiese against Namibia.

It was not just the young brigade who had moments to savour in Geelong. Muhammad Waseem - “our champion player,” as Rizwan terms him – showed his class against Namibia. Zahoor Khan showed his best self as a death bowler.

Junaid Siddique was so good he even earned himself a fan club, who brought pictures of their hero to the UAE’s last game. They were more interested in his batting, after he had hit the tournament’s largest six, than his main suit, but take your victories where you can.

And they all signed off on a high.

“It is a massive moment,” Rizwan said. “We have a young side and we definitely want to build on this.

“We want to build a lot of great things for UAE cricket moving forward. We have a 16-year-old kid [Aayan Khan] who has done a really great job in the tournament.

“We have Karthik, who had already created history as the first UAE cricketer to take a World Cup hat-trick.

“We have made a lot of good memories for UAE cricket in this tournament. We definitely look forward to building on this.”

Updated: October 21, 2022, 10:36 AM
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