Sultan Ahmed said the UAE remain focused on qualification for the T20 World Cup, despite the controversies that have beset the side this month.
The left-arm spinner played a key role in maintaining the national team’s chances of winning one of the six qualifying places for the tournament in Australia next year, as they beat Nigeria by five wickets in Abu Dhabi.
After opening the bowling, Sultan conceded just six runs in four overs, including bowling two maidens, which are among the most economical figures in the history of T20 internationals.
His efforts underpinned a fine start to the match by the troubled national team. In the eight over, Nigeria were 22 for three.
Although they rallied to reach 111 for three from their 20 overs, UAE made quick work of the chase.
Zawar Farid, playing his first game of the tournament, made 55 as the national team chased their target with over seven overs, and five wickets, in hand.
It was the respite the team required after the turmoil of the past few days.
They are still unsure of whether they can call up replacements, having lost Ashfaq Ahmed to a suspension related to an ongoing ICC investigation into corruption, and Ghulam Shabber, who left the country with no explanation this week.
Three players – Mohammed Naveed, Qadeer Ahmed and Shaiman Anwar – had already been banned before the tournament started, due to the corruption probe.
“I am happy with the squad which is here, and we are on track to reach our goal,” Sultan said. “The focus remains the same, which is to qualify for the World Cup. I’m very clear about my role that is given to me by my coach and captain.
“I have been bowling with the new ball for a number of years now, I know my role well and I just look to bowl dot balls. I don’t chase wickets, and eventually it gets success.”
Fellow left-arm spinner Ahmed Raza excelled again, as he took one for 15 from his four overs, which included a maiden, too.
Raza said having another left-arm spinner to bowl alongside helps his game. “As a captain, I would be happy if [Sultan] goes for nothing,” Raza said. “There is always that competitiveness between each other, but I think that helps the team. It is our strength.
“Sultan and I are both left-arm spinners, but very different to each other, and our roles are different as well.
“He bowls with the new ball more often than not, and I try to control the middle overs. He has been doing his job amazingly well.”
UAE have one pool match left, against Canada on Sunday evening at the Zayed Cricket Stadium.
They have to finish in the top four in the seven-team group to advance to the next phase.
The top two sides in each pool will qualify directly to the main event in Australia, while the next six will vie for the remaining four berths, in Dubai next week.
“We don’t need to go into what we have had to endure over the past couple of weeks, but massive credit to the guys,” Dougie Brown, the UAE coach, said.
“They have been the ones keeping themselves together. We have one focus, and that is to qualify for the T20 World Cup in Australia next year.
“We have had a couple of hiccups and speed-bumps along the way, but we are still in there fighting, along with the other teams.
“There will be a few twists and turns over the next few days as well, I’m sure.”
In the afternoon game in the same group, Canada suffered their first defeat of the tournament as they were beaten by Hong Kong by 32 runs.
The result means UAE are third – and level on points with Oman in first – having played a game more than everyone else apart from Hong Kong.