The last time the UAE’s cricketers were in Namibia, Adnan Mufti achieved something he might have thought would forever be beyond him.
In 2013, he had left Pakistan, disaffected by a lack of opportunities to further himself on the cricket field. He headed to start a new life as a software engineer for a Dubai company who just happened to have the leading corporate cricket team in the UAE.
In almost 50 matches in Pakistani domestic cricket before he left, Mufti never managed to score a first-class century. Moving to the UAE, where there is limited professional structure for the sport, let alone multi-day cricket, he must have thought his chances of achieving that particular feat had gone.
He might even have feared that he would have to plan for a life away from cricket altogether when Danube, the company he had joined on the basis of his batting skills, closed their cricket operation in 2016.
Unlike many of the Danube staff who were employed as cricketers, Mufti retained his job and his visa, as Anis Sajan, the company’s managing director, appreciated his work ethic and IT skills.
Within a year, he had established himself as a vital member of the national team of his adopted country. And, last September, he accomplished that long-awaited goal of a first-class ton, setting up an Intercontinental Cup win for the UAE in Namibia.
“It was kind of Mr Anis to sustain a few of us boys,” Mufti, 33, said of his sliding-doors moment two years ago. “I was here working properly, having completed my master’s in software engineering back in Pakistan.
“I was doing a job in the software department, and he kept me on for one year. After I qualified [to play for UAE], he was so kind, he said: ‘If you want to go for UAE, I will release you.’
“I have had a [Emirates Cricket Board] contract for nine months. It is one of the best moments for UAE cricket that they are giving contracts, and players are now being paid for their passion. We are able to live our passion.”
Now the national team are back in Windhoek, the capital city that stands 5,600ft above sea level, and Mufti and his colleagues are looking to scale a new peak of achievement.
The World Cricket League Division 2, which starts when they play Kenya on Thursday, represents the penultimate phase of qualifying for next year’s World Cup in England.
If they finish in the top two of the six-team tournament, the UAE will advance to a 10-team tournament in Zimbabwe next month.
If the past year is a guide, then Mufti is key to their chances of progressing to a second successive World Cup.
The national team’s results in that time have been markedly improved on what had gone on in the time since they went to the 50-overs showpiece in Australia and New Zealand in 2015. Not least, thanks to Mufti’s reliability at No 7 in the batting order.
“His role in the side is often undervalued because he bats at No 7, and it is a fairly unglamorous position,” UAE coach Dougie Brown said.
“In a 50-over game you are often coming in at 60-5 on a really difficult pitch, when you have to rebuild. He has done that, scoring a hundred in Namibia when he played incredibly well, and he scored a hundred against Nepal [in the World Cricket League].
“Or he is there to face four or five balls at the end of an innings, when we have played really well, and basically just throw caution to the wind, and try and hit every ball out of the park.
“I think his value to us at No 7 is unbelievable to us as a side. It balances it really well. He is exceptionally good at it, and I don’t think he always gets the praise he deserves.”
The national team have had a testing build-up to this week’s tournament, via a tri-series against Ireland and Scotland, and then a training camp in Pretoria.
The last time they played, they won a one-day international against Scotland, and Mufti said spirits are high.
“It is very important for us to qualify from Division 2 to Division 1, the World Cup Qualifier,” Mufti said.
“The win against Scotland was a confidence boost for us, and we want to do well in Namibia as well.”