Esha Oza banks on home advantage to fire UAE's Women’s World Cup T20 Qualifier campaign

Skipper leads national side into 10-team tournament in Abu Dhabi, with finalists booking their places in Bangladesh

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Esha Oza made a perfect start as the UAE women’s team captain. Opening the batting, she led from the front with a top score of 57 to win the Asia Cup Qualifier against hosts Malaysia by 37 runs in February.

Oza also topped the scoring charts with 229 runs and was named the Player of the Tournament.

That done and dusted, the India-born UAE cricketer will now have to step up for a bigger challenge – the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup Qualifier in Abu Dhabi from April 25 to May 7.

The UAE face Ireland in the opener in Group B, which also includes the Netherlands, Vanuatu and Zimbabwe. Group A is made up of Scotland, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Uganda and the USA.

The top two from each group will advance into the semi-finals and the finalists will book their passage to the World Cup in Bangladesh in September and October.

Oza, 26, took over the reins from Chaya Mughal in the middle of a bilateral series against Namibia in September. She’s the most senior player on the side, having made her international debut for the UAE in the Women’s T20 World Cup Qualifier in the Netherlands in 2018.

The UAE women’s team have come a long way since then, playing in many tournaments including two T20 World Cup Qualifiers and winning the Asia Region Qualifier, which they hosted in 2021.

“It's always great when you are preparing for a World Cup Qualifier, especially when the event is on home turf. We’ll have our families and friends behind us in support and that’s good enough for an out-and-out home advantage,” Oza told The National.

“Winning the Asia Cup Qualifier was a confidence booster but here we need to really step up against stronger teams. The teams in the qualifier play more on the bigger stages and have the experience but we will do our best.”

Ahead of the qualifiers, the UAE will feature in a T20I quadrangular with Scotland, the Netherlands and USA from April 16 to 19.

“It’s played at the same venue and certainly provides us a good platform ahead of the qualifier. We play each other once and that’s three games against three different oppositions,” Oza said.

“It’s nice to get to play games at the same venue before the main event. We have done a lot of hard work, training five days a week, and would like to have head start before the main tournament.

“The coaches are spending good time on us. We're working more on our skills, we’re spending at least three hours on fitness and stuff, and as it’s getting closer to the tournament, working more on our skills.”

Oza own form has been on the up. She was the top scorer in the Asian Qualifier and also rolled her arm with her off-spinners to good effect in the tournament.

“My form is good as of now. When you are the top scorer in a tournament and win the player of the series award, your confidence comes into play,” she said.

Oza completed a Business Management degree at the University of Wollongong before spending time playing for Bombay in the U23 tournament in 2020 and played for the senior side as well.

“That was a good experience,” the all-rounder said. “I wasn’t playing just T20 cricket but the 50 over-a-side as well, and with many of the Indian stars like Pooja Vastrakar, Jemimah Rodrigues and many of the current Indian players.

“One thing I learnt was nothing beats hard work and I also learnt a lot about how they train and play. The games are totally different, very competitive and challenging.

“I have just been playing cricket since I left university. I did a few online courses and completed the Level 1 Cricket Coaching in the last two years. My parents have always been supportive and without their support nothing would have been possible.”

Oza is encouraged by the Emirates Cricket Board’s venture to start a national age-group league for girls.

“The national age-group development tournaments for girls is a good start because when I started cricket, we never had that kind of encouragement,” she said.

“Now there are lots of girls from the ages of 12 to 15 keen on learning and playing cricket. I never had that opportunity when I began cricket at almost 19. I think women’s cricket will grow over a period of time. We are already seeing an increase on the numbers. It looks good.”

Updated: April 02, 2024, 6:47 PM