Ali Naseer defied a finger injury to lead the UAE to an opening win in their pursuit of T20 World Cup qualification – and still managed to look glum after hitting the winning runs.
The young all-rounder was left not out on 48 after edging the four that sealed a five-wicket win over Bahrain in the first group match of the T20 World Cup Asia Qualifier in Kathmandu.
He had been lining up a fourth six of his innings, which would have taken him to his first T20 international half-century.
He would have well deserved the milestone. Naseer had hurt the little finger on his left hand in taking a catch in the fourth over of the game.
Although he was clearly in pain, he was not noticeably incapacitated. Two of his three sixes went beyond the perimeter fences at the ground in Mulpani.
“It was really painful and I had to strap it up,” Naseer, 19, said.
“I was only gripping the bat with four fingers and leaving my pinky off it. It was tough.”
He shared in a fine stand with another of the bright prospects of UAE cricket, Alishan Sharafu, to settle UAE nerves. They put on 47 in 29 balls for the fifth wicket.
The two finalists in the eight-team Qualifier will play at the main event in the United States and the Caribbean next June.
Bahrain represented a potential banana skin for the national team. They beat them in the equivalent competition in Oman last year.
They looked handily placed to repeat that shock when they had the UAE 60 for four in the 11th over, chasing 136 to win.
All of the UAE’s main batting stars were back in the pavilion by that stage, and two inexperienced players at the crease.
Sharafu, 20, and Naseer showed why they are so highly regarded, though, as they put together a crucial partnership with a canniness that belied their youth.
“Me and Alishan just talked about trying to take it as deep as possible,” said Naseer, who acknowledged he was disappointed to miss out on a half-century at the end.
“My role so far in both the ODI team and the T20 team is to play the last few overs and try to score some quick runs.
“I was happy to be able to bat a bit longer today and score 48. Basil [Hameed] had hit a four the over before and I was like, ‘Come on, Basil – just get a single and let me get to my first T20 50’, but it is all good.”
When UAE lost to Bahrain in Muscat last year it was a shock but the national team were at least able to limit the damage.
The fact they got within two runs of the Bahrain total meant they advanced to the semi-finals, and ultimately the World Cup in Australia.
That was all down to the excellence of Vriitya Aravind. The young batter was unable to repeat his heroics this time around, though, as he fell cheaply to the bowling of Rizwan Butt.
Aravind looked stunned to be given out caught behind. The bowler himself scarcely appealed, but the umpire upheld the appeal after howls from the cover fielders.
At that stage, Bahrain looked confident they could bring about another upset, but they did not account for Naseer and Sharafu.
The UAE will face Kuwait in their second group match on Tuesday, then Hong Kong on Thursday.
In the other group, Nepal started their qualifying campaign with a confident eight-wicket win over Singapore.
Kushal Bhurtel top scored with 74 as the host team overhauled Singapore’s total of 145 for nine with 21 balls to spare.