The UAE’s plans for the T20 World Cup Qualifier have been thrown into disarray after Mohammed Naveed was replaced as captain, and withdrawn from the squad.
Ahmed Raza has been installed as his replacement ahead of the first match of the Qualifier, against Oman in Abu Dhabi on Friday, October 18.
The competition will decide the last six teams to play at the 20-over World Cup in Australia next year.
At number 12 in the world, UAE are the second highest ranked side in the tournament, and had been highly optimistic about their chances of progressing. However, a chaotic past few days will have done little to help their cause.
Emirates Cricket Board and ICC officials refused to clarify the reasons for the demotion of Naveed, who is not believed to be injured.
It is also understood the fast bowler may not be the only player from the squad initially announced on September 17 who could now be unavailable for the Qualifier.
Mubashir Usmani, the general secretary of the ECB, confirmed the appointment of Raza, but did not provide any further information when asked.
“There is no confusion, Ahmed Raza is the captain as per the list that was submitted to the ICC,” Usmani said.
On Thursday, the national team had seemed distracted as they were thrashed in a practice match at the ICC Academy in Dubai. Namibia bowled them out for 56, as they won by 10 wickets with 12 overs to spare.
A day later, the ICC released publicity photos of the 14 team captains for the Qualifier, with Raza as the UAE’s representative rather than Naveed.
The left-arm spinner, who last captained the national team in 2015, will now lead the team at the tournament.
The loss of Naveed would be a huge setback for the host team. He has been one of the most consistent fast bowlers in world cricket in the T20 format in recent years, reaching the top 10 of the ICC rankings for bowlers at one point.
He has also been an emblem of what can be achieved from humble beginnings by cricketers here.
After arriving from Pakistan on a tourist visa to visit friends in Khor Fakkan over a decade ago, he remained in the country after becoming a part of the busy street cricket scene there.
His friends persuaded him to try out for the UAE team. He took public buses for four-hour round-trips to be a net bowler at Sharjah Cricket Stadium, duly impressed, and has been part of the national set up ever since.
He has become a trailblazer for UAE cricketers by his performances on the international stage, as well as becoming a regular participant in franchise leagues around the world.
“The ICC would not comment on team selection,” an ICC spokeswoman said when asked about the situation.
Members of the UAE team and coaching staff also said they were unable to comment, while Naveed himself could not be contacted.
Raza is scheduled to attend a pre-tournament presser at the Zayed Cricket Stadium on Sunday.