UAE's Alishan Sharafu keen to ensure Asia Cup qualification in Oman final

Young batter has been one of the stars of resurgent national team’s charge to ACC Premier Cup final in Muscat

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Alishan Sharafu says he and his UAE colleagues aim to finish the job by securing Asia Cup qualification against Oman on Sunday.

The two sides will meet in the final of the ACC Premier Cup in Muscat. The fixture guarantees the winners a place in the continent’s top limited-overs event next year.

It is possible both sides could yet feature in that event. The UAE won the equivalent competition in the women’s game back in February, and so believed they had earned one of the two qualifying places for the Women’s Asia Cup.

Only subsequently did the Asian Cricket Council announce that competition would have two extra qualifying places, in addition to the UAE and Malaysia.

The five Asian Test nations – India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan – are guaranteed entry to the men’s Asia Cup.

Presently it is set to be a six-team competition, but speculation suggests that it, too, might be extended to accommodate two more teams.

While that is unconfirmed, the UAE are focused on making the debate academic.

Sharafu, who has been the national team’s breakout performer in reaching the final, said the team are glad to be in the position they are.

“It is more excitement than nerves,” Sharafu said ahead of their chance to avenge the group-stage loss to Oman in the final.

“The job is not done yet. The ultimate goal when we were coming here was to go to the Asia Cup.

“We have given ourselves the best chance now and hopefully we can bring our A-game in the final as well, and get ourselves a spot in the Asia Cup.”

No one has done more to get the national team into this position than Sharafu. He has been a batter transformed since arriving in Muscat just over a week ago – and his beleaguered side’s fortunes have been transformed, too.

Ahead of this series, Sharafu, hadn’t made a half-century in senior international cricket, nor had he won a player of the match award.

His value to the national team was not entirely unappreciated before that - certainly not by those inside it.

He had been fiddling around in the middle order, making the odd contribution here and there. The sort of innings that would be valuable to his team at the time, but whose context would be lost when the only reference point subsequently became a scorecard.

He needed a statement innings, one which would wrestle the limelight from those who are used to hogging it.

In this tournament in Muscat, he has done just that. Three times over. His first half-century in UAE colours came in the opening match, against Kuwait.

It might easily have been a century, too, had Asif Khan not arrived at the other end and ruthlessly finished the game with a flurry of sixes.

Sharafu did not rest on his laurels. Instead, he has added two more half-centuries to that career best 90 not out on opening day.

The latter of those, against Nepal, was arguably the most instructive of any of his three milestones.

His half-centuries against Kuwait and Bahrain were made with the sort of dash that marked Sharafu out as the most dynamic batter of an age-group cohort that included the likes of Aryan Lakra, Vriitya Aravind and Kai Smith.

The Nepal innings required something different. The UAE were chasing a small total, on a testing pitch, against a side they had endured plenty of suffering against in recent times.

Rather than blaze away in his typical style to try to hurry them to the winning line, Sharafu took stock. Senior colleagues came and went, but the 21-year-old batter stayed to see it through.

He ended with 55 not out from 41 balls, his second match award of the tournament, and the chance to go again in Sunday’s final.

“We knew what we needed to get, and we had seen how the wicket had played in the first innings,” Sharafu said.

“It wasn’t the easiest to go out there and play shots until you were settled in. Lower chases can be a bit tricky sometimes so you just need to give yourself a bit of time to get set and then you can start to play some shots.”

Sharafu’s upturn in form stems most obviously from a change in his role. He has been sent in to open with his captain, Muhammad Waseem, and he has thrived as a result.

“Before he was batting at No3 or 4, but I took a stand and told him he would open with me,” Waseem said.

“He has done a brilliant job. He has great skills, and is a very talented guy and he has shown his talent to everyone here.

“He has got lots of shots but [in the semi-final win over Nepal] he showed he can play sensible innings when required as well.”

Updated: April 20, 2024, 12:59 PM