UAE matchwinner Aayan Khan: ‘Nepal’s supporters give us a morale boost, too’

Familiar rivals stand between national team and final of ACC Premier Cup in Oman

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The UAE will find a familiar obstacle blocking the path between them and the next step of Asia Cup qualifying on Friday.

The national team booked a place in the semi-final of the ACC Premier Cup in Muscat when they trounced Cambodia in their final pool match on Wednesday.

The 10-team competition carries with it a place at next year’s Asia Cup for the winners, while the top three will all play at the Emerging Nations Cup.

While it is not the ultimate decider this time, it does mean only one of the UAE and Nepal will have the chance of reaching the Asia Cup.

The two sides are well-acquainted with each other, having played in a variety of decisive fixtures over recent times.

Nepal have held the edge over the UAE for the most part of late. They beat them to three major prizes in the course of a few months last year.

Rohit Paudel’s side advanced to the 2023 Asia Cup after downing the national team in Kathmandu last May.

The same occurred in T20 World Cup qualifying in Mulpani later in the year, while they also took the Asian qualifying berth at the U19 World Cup at the UAE’s expense.

Despite all that heartache, Aayan Khan – who played in each of those fixtures – says the players relish matches against Nepal.

“We have tight games against Nepal, and it is always the important games [in most series],” Aayan said.

“We have played them a lot at home and away, and wherever it is, their fans are so good. To play against them will be a hard game.

“The fans from there support the teams equally. They show support for us, too, and it does help us because it gives us a morale boost.

“It is good for us to be playing in front of them anywhere, too.”

The early days of Aayan’s own international career contain a cherished memory from playing in Kathmandu.

Having become the youngest player ever to feature in a T20 World Cup in Australia in 2022, the spinner then made his one-day international debut in a series in Nepal.

The fixture was played the day before his 17th birthday, and he was serenaded by the massed ranks of home supporters.

“It was my first tour of Nepal and there were thousands of them singing my name,” Aayan said. “That was a happy memory for me.

“There are two important games left, the semis and the final. The team which plays good on the day will move on.

“Our team is strong now. We have played four games, and it was a hard one against Oman, and it will be a tough one against Nepal, too. Inshallah we will win and play in the final as well.”

Nepal put the seal on a fourth successive win in their group when they beat Saudi Arabia on Wednesday morning, in a match that was reduced to eight overs by the weather.

Although the rain was not as substantial as across the border in the UAE, Muscat was still hit by a storm on Tuesday night.

While Oval 1 at the Oman Cricket Academy was ready for play at the 10am start time, the wind had blown away the covers on the adjacent field.

It meant the ground staff had to dry the wicket before a truncated match could take place between Nepal and Saudi. Paudel’s side chased the 74 required to win with six wickets and four balls remaining.

In the later match of the day, the UAE thrashed Cambodia, who are the lowest-ranked side in the competition.

Aayan earned the man-of-the-match award for taking three for seven as the tournament debutants were bowled out for 76.

Muhammad Waseem and Alishan Sharafu made light work of the chase, which was completed in just 5.1 overs, with nine wickets in hand.

The only issue of the day for Aayan was the state of the award he was presented with, as part of it was broken.

He asked the organisers if it could be mended, although whether there is much long-term point in that is questionable.

Aayan says he has around 150 match awards at his home, of which around 15 are damaged, usually by him and his sibling playing cricket in the house.

“I’m very happy to have won two man-of-the-match awards [in this tournament so far], and this one I would like to dedicate to my mum,” Aayan said.

Updated: April 17, 2024, 4:11 PM