The incentive on offer at the Asia Cup Qualifier, which starts in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, is major.
Winning the six-team event will provide the rare opportunity to play against Virat Kohli, Sarfraz Ahmed, and all the other gilded stars of the continent’s cricket elite, at the main event next month.
So a big deal, then, for any player from Hong Kong, Nepal, Singapore, Oman or Malaysia. But perhaps ever so slightly more so for those of UAE, given that the big show will be played on home soil.
If they do not make it, it will feel like lending your home for a lavish house party, only to be barred from entry yourself.
The 2018 Asia Cup will be the third to have been staged in the UAE, but it is returning for the first time after a 23-year hiatus. Before the squad left for Malaysia, coach Dougie Brown said playing in it “would be as big as playing in a World Cup” for UAE’s players.
Rarely has the national squad been peopled by so many home-reared players as it is now. Nearly half of the UAE squad in Malaysia were either born or raised in the Emirates.
That is a marked difference from times past. At times, as few as one or two were home-bred, with the rest developed overseas, before arriving as adults to work.
A trio who make up the spine of the team, Rohan Mustafa, Rameez Shahzad and Ahmed Raza, grew up together. For the first time, one of their peers from their youth in Sharjah will get the chance to stake a claim to a permanent starting berth, too.
Abdul Shakoor has replaced Ghulam Shabber as the wicketkeeper for the tour to Malaysia. It is reward for strong performances in domestic cricket for a 30-year-old gloveman for whom national recognition has been curiously absent to date, even in age-group cricket.
Shakoor was on the fringes of the national team ahead of the 2014 World Twenty20 and 2015 World Cup, but could not find a way past the likes of Swapnil Patil, Saqlain Haider, or Amjad Ali. Now he has his chance, and he says it might just have been worth the wait.
“It is so exciting for me,” Shakoor said. “When I was in the side in 2012, we were in Division Three or Four, and I wasn’t selected to play international matches.
“Now there could be the chance to play Pakistan and India. I am so excited. To play these top sides, on TV, it is too exciting.”
Born and raised in the UAE, after his father moved from Pakistan to work for Sharjah Water and Electricity, Shakoor is keen to make up for lost time, having been off the selection radar for four years.
“When I was there first, Swapnil Patil was there, Amjad Ali was there, and between them, I was the other wicketkeeper for UAE,” said Shakoor, who is not to be confused with his namesake Abdul Shakoor Bangash, who kept wicket on tour to the UK two years ago.
“I was confident in my wicketkeeping ability, I felt I was the best in UAE. I was just trying my best for my team. My teammates were saying, ‘You are doing well, keep going, you could get a recall for the UAE team’.
“They told me, try to score, and hope for the best. I tried my best, and I got the call.”
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Brown believes Shakoor’s selection sends out an important message to domestic cricketers aspiring for representative honours.
Shabber was the first wicketkeeper to receive a central contract when they were introduced by the Emirates Cricket Board, and has been a permanent fixture in the side for two years.
He has been displaced, though, because of Shakoor’s excellence on the domestic circuit.
“It is a tough selection on Shabber, who has done pretty well over the last period of time,” Brown said.
“Credit to Shakoor, who has done really well playing domestic cricket. It was another selection where we showed domestic players that, if they are good enough and show the right commitment and traits we are looking for, we can give them an opportunity at senior level.
“He has done exactly that. He has got stuck in, trained really hard, shown us what he has got with bat and gloves and we are looking forward to how he performs.”