Retaining one-day international status at the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe was undoubtedly a major financial boost for UAE cricket. Recent history suggests it is by no means a guarantee of a steady flow of major matches for the national team against high pedigree opposition, though.
UAE will play two matches in the space of the next three days against sides from the game’s top rank – against Afghanistan on Tuesday, then Zimbabwe on Thursday. It is unclear when the national team’s cricketers will be involved in an ODI after that.
They played 31 in the four years between gaining ODI status in New Zealand in 2014 and retaining it in Harare last week. In the same space of time, Sri Lanka have played nearly as many – 27.5 – per year on average.
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Superficially, the UAE should be well-placed to host matches against top-tier sides. The facilities in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi are the envy of even the most developed Test countries.
International teams are regularly passing through, either as preparation for series in the Asian subcontinent, or playing against Pakistan in the Emirates.
And yet it has been beyond the UAE’s means to stage regular meaningful fixtures against the leading sides since they were afforded ODI privileges in 2014.
According to Will Kitchen, UAE cricket’s high performance manager, the costs of staging ODIs remain prohibitive. He believes the national team have done well to play as many matches as they have, relative to other similarly-resourced teams.
Four sides were given the same status by way of their performances at the 2014 Qualifier in New Zealand. In the time it took UAE to play 31 matches, Scotland managed 37, Hong Kong 19, and Papua New Guinea 17.
“Relatively we have done well to play the amount of ODIs we have done, in comparison to other sides of a similar status,” Kitchen said.
“We are really ambitious and want to be able to play lots of cricket, but we need to be able to fund the ODI cricket. The costs involved are so high.
“Arranging a standalone ODI game, you are talking about tens of thousands of dollars, compared to tens of thousands of dirhams. That is really the reason we don’t play more of it is because it is so expensive to play.”
Staging List A, 50-over matches at ICC Academy in Dubai involving the UAE team costs around Dh25,000. For an ODI, the cost of ICC match officials, anti-corruption measures, and other expenses takes the figure to at least the same in dollars – or the equivalent of around Dh91,000.
As such, the Emirates Cricket Board balance their budget to what they feel best serves the development of their players.
In 2017, for example, they used additional funds from the ICC to play a five-match List A series against Zimbabwe’s A-team, a three-match List A series in the Netherlands, and ODIs against Scotland and Hong Kong.
“It is always great to play more ODI cricket, particularly against the full member teams,” Dougie Brown, the UAE coach, said ahead of the Super Sixes match against Afghanistan.
“We are very lucky in Dubai. Geographically we are extremely well placed. We get a number of opportunities that are not full ODI games, but they are against that standard of opposition.
“If you speak to any of the associate sides at this competition, that is the defining thing: getting that opportunity to play more regularly against a higher standard of opposition than we currently do.
“That is critical to allowing our individual games within our countries to continue going in the right directions.”