The lot of an international cricketer beyond the Test countries is an insecure one. Sure, there are chances to shine. When and where to find them, though, is an inexact science.
The UAE’s leading players had the opportunity to play at the World Cup three years ago. Even before that two-month sojourn to Australia and New Zealand had started, their prospects of making it to another any time soon were clipped, as ICC all but closed the doors to cricket’s developing world.
Still, chances are there. The national team vied with the continent’s best two years ago, beating Afghanistan en route to the main event of the Asia Cup in Bangladesh. The Afghans, it should be noted, have since been upgraded to Test status, which is not far off being a free pass to most major events.
And earlier this year, UAE enjoyed perhaps the finest day of its cricket history, by beating a Test nation for the first time. It was not any old throwaway win, either. Beating Zimbabwe at the World Cup Qualifier in Harare in March was portentous.
What did UAE have to play for that day? They were already out of the running for World Cup qualification, while Zimbabwe had the ultimate prize within their reach.
For the UAE, it was about little more than pride, about proving their worth. Which, allied to a fair bit of skill, apparently goes a long way.
UAE went on to win, silencing a packed-out Harare Sports Club. And their reward? A return to the mundane, namely in the form of a low-key tour of Kuwait, for a minor – but essential – step on the ladder of qualifying for the next World T20.
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Even now, though, an opportunity has availed itself. A berth is available to qualify for the Asia Cup, which will be played in Abu Dhabi and Dubai next month. Which means another chance to play on the television, in front of packed stands, against some of the sport’s biggest stars.
So the end of the World Cup dream in March was not, in fact, the end of the road for big-match possibilities.
“For me and UAE cricket, instead of us thinking it was the end of something, we thought of it as the beginning,” Dougie Brown, the coach, said ahead of the Asia Cup Qualifier in Malaysia.
“We proved a hell of a lot to ourselves and other people. That is a starting point. Kicking on from there seems like the obvious thing to do.”
Brown is well aware the path to playing against India, Pakistan, et al in a home Asia Cup is a potted one. UAE may be the highest-ranked side in the qualifying competition in Kuala Lumpur, but they have seen enough of their rivals in the recent past to know potential pitfalls await.
Nepal have won two of three matches with the UAE this year, even though the national team beat them to win the final of the World Cricket League Division 2 in Namibia in February. The two countries also shared the ACC Trophy final, which was a similar competition to this Qualifier, when it was last played in 2012, in Sharjah.
Hong Kong and Oman have taken wins off the national team in recent years, while Singapore – who they face in their opening match on Wednesday - and hosts Malaysia present a more unknown challenge.
The coach, however, is setting his sights high, both over the next month and beyond.
“We have set ourselves some pretty high standards moving forwards,” Brown said. “We know what direction of travel we want to be going in the next three or four years.
“If we can get to that point, we will have done unbelievably well. We have set the bar pretty high, knowing that if we don’t quite get there, but get close to it, we will still be in a good position.
“It is very much the start of something. This is the first major tournament after [Zimbabwe], and we have the opportunity to go and do something similar, when the stakes are just as high.”