UAE cricket needs a deep clean if it's ever going to erase the stain of corruption

Shell of a team out of the World T20, charges against players, they have been 'punched too often'. What now is the route to recovery?

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - October 30, 2019: The UAE gather together before the game between the UAE and Scotland in the World Cup Qualifier in the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. Wednesday the 30th of October 2019. Sports City, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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What next for UAE cricket? Now, there is a question.

On the macro scale, things are likely to get worse yet, before they get better.

The ICC’s sanctions for the three banned players are expected imminently.

It is difficult to believe any of Mohammed Naveed, Shaiman Anwar or Qadeer Ahmed will ever play for UAE again.

Even if they are able to prove their innocence on any of the charges they are faced with of breaching cricket’s anti-corruption code, Naveed and Qadeer have both acknowledged a failure to report suspicious approaches.

That was the charge that saw Bangladesh all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan banned for two years this week. A similar penalty would likely cost the UAE trio their employment visas, and therefore their careers.

In the absence of any professional legal advice, they have been left to argue their own cases to the ICC.

Qadeer, for example, is unable to afford the phone bill on the number he had confiscated by the ICC’s anti-corruption officers as part of their investigation, let alone pay for a lawyer.

Ashfaq Ahmed and Ghulam Shabber are also suspended by the Emirates Cricket Board. The governing body have said both are part of the corruption probe, although no formal charges have yet been made.

It is a sorry state. The game here needs a deep clean if it is ever going to erase the stain of corruption.

They have already acted, by creating a new position to oversee security and anti-corruption. Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Azam Khan's job is not going to be easy.

And what of the national team itself? With five of their best players missing by the end of the T20 World Cup Qualifier, it was no surprise they looked a shell of a team.

Gutted by suspensions, and having invested so much emotional energy in making it through the pool, they were no match for either Netherlands or Scotland in the eliminator play-offs. They had been “punched once too often,” as coach Dougie Brown put it.

How to rebuild? Usually in the aftermath to defeat, it is kneejerk to call for wholesale changes, and to suggest calling up a load of kids.

But with six players – fast-bowler Amir Hayat was a curiously unexplained absentee from the Qualifier squad, too – now missing, wholesale change is all that really can happen. There are few options left, other than the kids.

The silver lining is that those kids are alright. UAE’s senior players might not have a World Cup to look forward to next year, but their age-group colleagues do.

The Under 19 side will play at the World Cup in South Africa in February. They were the first U19 side from this country to achieve qualification for that event by means other than hosting it, as was the case in 2014.

In the past, UAE cricket has suffered from a chronic unwillingness to back young players.

The national team has routinely had one of the oldest average ages in the international game.

This has been due to a reliance on players who have arrived from abroad in adulthood, then taken a minimum of three years to qualify on residency grounds.

Of the current team, Chirag Suri is the most recent to have played age-group cricket for UAE. He is 24 now.

Ahmed Raza, Rohan Mustafa, and Rameez Shahzad all did, too. They are now 30-somethings.

Maybe it is a coincidence those four have been the backbone of the side during the recent troubles. Does it mean more to them than the others? Possibly.

Either way, it would be remiss not to take a chance on youngsters now.

Raza, the captain, even said as much after the loss to Scotland, reasoning that it would help the U19 side’s prospects, too, if they were called in for the senior team’s next official engagement.

“There are very exciting young players coming through the ranks,” Raza said, looking ahead to the new one-day international league, starting with a series involving Scotland and United States in December.

“We have one in the squad [Vriitya Aravind], and there is Ansh Tandon, who got a hundred in the U19 Asia Cup, and Karthik [Meiyappan].

“There are talented players. If we get them in the dressing room now, I’m sure that will help them in the U19 World Cup.

“After that, they can be part of our squad as regular members of the team.”

There are others, too. Yodhin Punja and Jonathan Figy are the sort of cricketers who have fallen through the cracks in the UAE system too often in the past.

Each went to the UK for education. In the past, they might have been forgotten about, as they are out of sight, out of mind.

But they are outstanding young talents. UAE cricket needs as many of those as they can get if they are going to weather this storm.