UAE's fighting spirit in T20 series against Afghanistan points to bright future

The national team, which included a number of youngsters, pushed the Test nation all the way in the decider in Sharjah

Muhammad Waseem led a young UAE team creditably in the T20 series against Afghanistan. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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A series triumph over a Test-playing nation was always going to be a tough task but the manner in which the UAE took on Afghanistan in the three-match T20 series must fill the national team with hope.

The UAE lost the first game by 72 runs but bounced back to level the series with a 11-run victory in the next game and then pushed the Afghans all the way before losing the decider in Sharjah on Tuesday by a close margin of four wickets, with nine deliveries to spare.

How the UAE performed

After a forgettable first match in which the visitors posted 203 thanks to a century from Rahmanullah Gurbaz, they regrouped with better plans for the second game.

With the series on the line, captain Muhammad Waseem went on the offensive and hit a sparkling half-century, setting up a solid foundation with opening partner Aryan Lakra, who made a composed unbeaten 63. A total of 166-7 was something the bowlers could work with. Seamers Ali Naseer and Muhammad Jawadullah picked up four wickets each to level the series.

Then in the decider, the UAE had the Afghans cornered for most of the game while defending 127 until Najibullah Zadran (28 off 13) took the game away from the hosts.

Where the UAE need to improve

Fielding has been their biggest concern. It’s an area that the team has worked on tremendously over the past few years but there is still work to be done.

Empowering the youngsters

In a bold move, the UAE fielded a young team in a bid to build a squad for the future.

They rewarded three teenagers, Dhruv Parashar, Nilansh Keswani and Tanish Suri, from the team that reached the U19 Asia Cup final and recorded historic victories over Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Aayan Afzal Khan, 18, Ali Naseer, 19, Vriitya Aravind, 21, and Aryan Lakra, 22, are already established players and played key roles in the series.

All of these players emerged from the Emirates Cricket Board’s National Academies League, the brainchild of Andy Russell, the ECB’s development manager.

The Academies League was founded in 2016 and currently has 62 academies in the country competing across 275 matches in both the U19 and U16 competitions from October to February. This is followed by the Inter-Emirate age group competition in March.

The inaugural ILT20 School Cup was conducted in November with the winners of each group representing the franchise teams in the finals in January.

From this pathway programme, they now have a bigger pool of youngsters to choose from.

In addition, the ILT20 Development Tournament was held in September ahead of season two of the DP World ILT20 from January 19.

According to Russell, plans are under way to conduct an U13 National Academies League around February and April, and it certainly would give more depth to UAE cricket.

Previously, players arrived in the UAE having played top-class cricket and they had to serve over three years to qualify for the country.

By then, most would be over 30 and past their prime. But with a steady flow of UAE-born youngsters coming through, the talent pool is growing wider and deeper.

What they said

Waseem, the UAE captain, said: “It was a good series and the boys put up a great fight against a Test-playing nation. To win the second game to level the series and going very close in the deciding third game was a creditable effort from the team.

“We have some very good young talent and can obviously improve with more opportunities. I think we gave away a few runs in our fielding but, overall, it was a performance we can take a lot of positives [from going] forward.”

Naveen-ul-Haq, the Afghan quick who was player of the match in the third T20 with a career-best four for 20, added: “It was a good game overall just before our series against India (starting from January 11). It was a good preparation for us.

“We needed to give respect to each and every team that we play, whether you are playing against England, India or the UAE. Cricket is a game in which we must show respect to each and every team. I think the UAE boys deserve that respect, they have gained that respect and they have played quite well throughout this series.”

Updated: January 03, 2024, 12:24 PM