Reality check for new coach Rajput as UAE stumble at the start of World Cup qualifying

Erratic display results in three-wicket defeat to Canada in Cricket World Cup League 2 opener

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Judged by the tiny sample size of its first day, the new era for UAE cricket looks very much like the last one.

Dropped catches. Missed run out chances. An inability to make it past 200 runs.

If Lalchand Rajput needed an intensive guide as to exactly what needs to be done to improve the fortunes of the national team, he had it all on day one of his new job.

The former India Test batter’s first day at the office culminated in a three-wicket loss to Canada in the UAE’s opening game of the Cricket World Cup League 2 cycle.

It all felt very much like the end days of Robin Singh’s stint in charge a year ago, when the national team stumbled through the final throes of the 50-over competition.

At least the personnel had had a spring clean. Rajput was in the dugout for the first time. Tanish Suri, Rahul Chopra and Zuhaib Zubair were handed debuts. Alishan Sharafu and Sanchit Sharma were recalled after absences from the ODI side.

And yet the failings were the same. A number of batters made starts, but captain Muhammad Waseem’s 49 was the top score.

Aayan Khan and Zubair, the young spin twins from Sharjah who were in harness in an international match for the first time, made 38 and 31 respectively.

But the UAE’s total of 194 in 47.5 overs was going to require a strong fielding display if it was going to be defended. It got the opposite.

Despite some resistance from experienced campaigners Zahoor Khan and Junaid Siddique with the ball, Canada chased it with a little over two overs left, as Nicholas Kirton made 68 not out.

Still, Rajput pointed out this is just the beginning for his side.

“I think it would have been good to start on a winning note, but that is the way it goes,” Rajput said.

“We gave them a good fight, because if you look at the game, we still pushed them to the end. Catches win matches and in a low scoring game, you have to take the catches.

“That is an area we need to work hard on. And again, batting 50 overs is key in the longer format.

“There is a lot of work to be done, and it gives a broader picture when you play a competitive game. I wouldn’t say it was a great day at the office, but still, it was not a bad day.”

Despite the performance, a smile was never too far from the new coach’s face. Rajput, who was in charge of Zimbabwe up until 2022, said he is glad to be back as part of an international team environment.

“It was a great feeling,” he said. “It is a different country, a different culture, different atmosphere, and different players to get used to.

“It was great that the players responded very well. We have a great camaraderie. We started off as a unit.

“We have to try and encourage each other and help each other and be confident when our fellow players perform well.

“I am really feeling great that I have the UAE jersey. Although we have not started on a winning note, we will see that there will be some games where we start winning as well.”

Canada are a new side in the CWCL2, a competition which forms the first phase of World Cup qualifying for the sides beyond the Test elite.

When victory was sealed, Kirton pointed to a symbol tattooed on his forearm that represents family, and he said his side were thrilled to begin their campaign with a win.

“We were ready to hit the ground running,” Kirton said. “Especially having played the [World Cup Qualifier Play-off] in Namibia last year, the pressure of that tournament compared to this, knowing we have a three-year cycle to play constant cricket at this level, it feels a lot like pressure.

“Competitions like that are do or die every match. For this, it is about us performing and executing our skills. We had a good day at the office.

“I really enjoyed [his battle with UAE fast bowler Siddique]. When players play cricket hard like that, it brings out the best in me.”

Updated: February 28, 2024, 3:46 PM