Ahmed Raza confident he can steer UAE through troubled waters at T20 World Cup Qualifier

New captain 'very excited' ahead of tournament but shadow of Naveed's absence hangs over team

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - October 13, 2019: L-R Ademola Onikoyi, Nigeria, Charlie Perchard, Jersey, Gary Wilson, Ireland, Ahmed Raza, UAE, Navneet Dhaliwal, Canada, Zeeshan Maqsood, Oman and Aizaz Khan, Hong Kong. T20 World Cup Qualifier, captain's press conference. Sunday 13th of October. Zayed Cricket Stadium, Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Ahmed Raza says he is confident he can steer the UAE through their ongoing malaise after being restored to the captaincy at late notice ahead of the T20 World Cup Qualifier.

The national team will start their bid for a place at next year’s main event in Australia when they face Oman at Zayed Cricket Stadium on Friday.

Raza will lead them after being handed the role when Mohammed Naveed was removed from his position, and withdrawn from the squad without explanation at the weekend.

Emirates Cricket Board officials have refused to clarify the reasons for Naveed’s absence, which has only served to fuel speculation about wrongdoing.

The fast bowler, who is understood not to be injured, was still not contactable on Sunday.

To exacerbate the problems, it is believed two more unnamed senior players will also be absent from the squad when the UAE play their first official warm-up match against Scotland on Monday, for issues directly related to Naveed’s situation.

The chaos heaps pressure on the new captain, who is returning to the position four years after last captaining the UAE.

Raza was offered the role late on Thursday, which coincidentally was his 31st birthday, after the UAE had been thrashed in a practice match against Namibia in Dubai. Naveed had been present at the ground for the game, but was not playing.

“I found out about it at the weekend and obviously I am very excited about it,” Raza said. “I am looking forward to having this second opportunity.

“The last time I was made captain was 2015, so I am four years more mature, and have four years more cricket under my belt. I am really excited and looking forward to this new challenge.”

It is certainly likely to be a challenge, given the issues that have enveloped the team since Thursday.

Raza represented the host nation at the pre-tournament captains’ press conference on Sunday.

And yet, less than 24 hours before their first warm-up match, and less than a week until the tournament’s start, he was unable to confirm the make up of the national team’s squad.

However, he said he feels equipped to cope with what is ahead, as the national team vie for one of the six qualification places on offer in the 14-team competition.

Raza already has experience of leading the national team in times of trouble.

He served a long apprenticeship as vice-captain under Khurram Khan, before both were removed from office and Mohammed Tauqir was made captain for the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Ahmed Raza, left, takes a selfie with the other national team captains in front of the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Courtesy ICC
Ahmed Raza, left, takes a selfie with the other national team captains in front of the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Courtesy ICC

Raza was left out of the squad entirely for that competition, and yet was handed the captaincy later that year – before passing on the role soon after to Amjad Javed.

“That was a time, post-World Cup, that was more of a transition period,” Raza recalls of his first stint in charge.

“We had a lot of ODI debutants at that time, but now we have a very experienced squad. I am looking forward to it.

“Everyone likes to lead from the front, and I will be looking to do that here as well.”

In contrast, the UAE’s rivals for qualification from Group B at the Qualifier appeared in confident mood.

“We have some exciting young players coming through, which is great for the future of Irish cricket,” Gary Wilson, the Ireland captain, said.

“We feel like we have the right blend of youth and experience, and we have a great record here in the Middle East. We are looking to extend that record.

“There are some very talented teams here, and hopefully we can be right there at the very top come [the final].”