Ahmed Raza says UAE are grateful to be back in action against Ireland after coronavirus chaos

National team reunited in competition for first time in 11 months on Friday, when they play Ireland at Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi

UAE squad to face Ireland

Ahmed Raza (captain), Chirag Suri (vice-captain), Rohan Mustafa, Mohammed Usman, Mohammed Boota, Zahoor Khan, Junaid Siddique, Waheed Ahmad, Zawar Farid, CP Rizwaan, Aryan Lakra, Karthik Meiyappan, Alishan Sharafu, Basil Hameed, Kashif Daud, Adithya Shetty, Vriitya Aravind

Ahmed Raza says UAE's players are grateful for any cricket they can get, given the disruption that has been caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The national team will be reunited in competition for the first time in 11 months on Friday, when they play Ireland at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

They will play four one-day internationals in the space of seven days against the Irish.

The next official cricket inked into the UAE's schedule is a Cricket World Cup League Two tri-series against hosts United States and Scotland in August.

Raza, the UAE captain, said he is looking forward to a return to playing, given the difficulties of the recent past.

“It was definitely concerning, but we were pretty lucky to be in the UAE,” Raza said.

“The government and the concerned authorities took care of this pandemic very well, and we were able to hit the ground running, before any other Associate nation.

“We played a domestic tournament which was streamed live, then a T20 tournament. We had a busy calendar that was postponed due to the pandemic.

“Now we are looking forward to what this year will hold. We have to take each series at a time, and we cannot plan much ahead of ourselves.

“We have to look at this series, and then see what the rest of the year holds for us.

“It has been good to be back together after nearly a year off. It has been really good.”

Although international cricket has been paused for the best part of a year for them, the country’s leading players have not been short of cricket of late.

Domestic cricket restarted in July, and has continued more or less uninterrupted since. The national team have been training as a collective for the best part of three months.

Three players – Raza, Karthik Meiyappan and Zahoor Khan – also had the unexpected benefit for training with IPL franchises when that competition was exiled here from September to November.

“When we left IPL, we felt we had gained a lot,” Raza said. “It is hard to explain in words, but we just started feeling different, and you are different in your approach as well.

“I hope whatever we learnt in that period, we can showcase that in our performances in this series.”

Zahoor, who was part of the Mumbai Indians training squad during the IPL, is fit to face Ireland.

The fast bowler had been an injury concern, following an elbow injury sustained in the Emirates D20 last month.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - December 11, 2020: Cricket. Blues' Zahoor Khan in the game between Ajman and ECB Blues in the Emirates D20. Friday, December 11th, 2020 in Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

However, both he and Chirag Suri, who had missed that tournament with a rib injury, have been named in the squad for the series.

The 17-man squad also includes debut call ups for Alishan Sharafu, Aryan Lakra, Kashif Daud and Adhitya Shetty.

For Ireland, the series represents a return to ODI action for the first time since they beat world champions England in a remarkable run chase in August, in the Cricket World Cup Super League.

They will return to that competition after the four-game series against the UAE, with three matches against Afghanistan, also in Abu Dhabi.

“We didn’t get a lot of cricket last year, but we did get more cricket than a lot of teams, so we were fortunate,” Andy Balbirnie, the Ireland captain, said.

“We are looking forward to hitting the ground running.”

Kevin O’Brien, the Ireland batsman, said the tourists are targeting a clean-sweep against their hosts, ahead of the series against Afghanistan.

“We are a well-conditioned team. We are all very fit, and have worked hard over the last eight or nine months through lockdown, working in the gym or running on our own when you couldn’t train in the gym.

“Four games in seven days will be tough, but fingers crossed we all get through it unscathed and can get our best team on the field for every match.

“The main thing for us is to try and win 4-0 leading into the Afghanistan series.”

The series starts at 9.30am on Friday, with all matches to be played at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in the capital.

UAE squad to face Ireland

Ahmed Raza (captain), Chirag Suri (vice-captain), Rohan Mustafa, Mohammed Usman, Mohammed Boota, Zahoor Khan, Junaid Siddique, Waheed Ahmad, Zawar Farid, CP Rizwaan, Aryan Lakra, Karthik Meiyappan, Alishan Sharafu, Basil Hameed, Kashif Daud, Adithya Shetty, Vriitya Aravind

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