UAE reach Asia Cup qualification final after downing rivals Nepal

Dominant display by national team in ACC Premier Cup semi-final leaves big prize within touching distance

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The UAE reversed a trend as they finally beat Nepal in a decisive qualifying fixture.

The national team are not yet booked in for next year’s Asia Cup. However, they are one step away from it now having defeated familiar rivals in the semi-final of the ACC Premier Cup in Muscat.

The competition carries with it one place at the main event. The national team’s fate will now be decided by a fixture against either Oman or Hong Kong, who meet in the second semi-final on Friday afternoon.

Over the course of a few months last year Nepal beat the UAE to three different major competitions: the Asia Cup, the Under 19 World Cup, and the T20 World Cup.

The national team’s inconsistent form leading up to their latest encounter did little to suggest an upset to that established order was in the offing.

While Nepal breezed through the group stage of the competition with four wins from four, the UAE showed signs of frailties which have been evident for some while now.

They had beaten lower-ranked sides like Bahrain, Kuwait and Cambodia, but were outplayed by hosts Oman.

And yet their will have arrived at the Oman Cricket Academy ground with reasons for optimism. When these sides had last played on this field, three years earlier, the UAE had clinched T20 World Cup qualification.

Their spirits were lifted further when Muhammad Waseem won the toss to give his side the advantage of both chasing, as well as morning assistance for the seamers.

They used it perfectly. Junaid Siddique struck with the first ball of the day, as he had Kushal Bhurtel caught at the wicket by Syed Haider Shah. The UAE scarcely looked back thereafter.

Junaid has long been the leader of the UAE attack, so his excellence was not unusual.

The form of his new-ball partner, though, was a huge boon to the national team. Omid Rahman was playing just his third senior team match, having been promoted from the Under 19 set up which reached the final of the age-group Asia Cup last year.

The Afghanistan-born seamer was outstanding as he took one for 13 in his three overs in the Nepal powerplay.

The UAE barely let up. Their effort in the field was faultless as they restricted Nepal to 119 for nine, with Junaid, Ali Naseer and Basil Hameed each taking two wickets.

The nature of the UAE chase suggested the wicket was not the usual Al Amerat batter’s paradise. Waseem and the in-form Asif Khan both went cheaply.

Alishan Sharafu, though, maintained his fine run of form. The young batter’s stature within the national team has grown significantly on this tour, and he anchored the chase with an unbeaten half century.

He finished unbeaten on 55 as the national team completed the chase with six wickets spare and 16 balls remaining.

“We are both very good teams who play with aggression, and you know that on any particular day whichever side plays good cricket will win,” Waseem said.

“We came here with a plan, and we won the game. Early on, the ball was swinging a bit and in my mind, if we were bowling first, I thought we needed to restrict them to 120-130. The bowlers did a great job.

“Junaid is a very experienced bowler and I am very pleased with Omid, Basil, Aayan, Ali and [Mohammed] Farooq as well.”

Updated: April 19, 2024, 10:27 AM