High and lows in UAE cricket’s run-up to the 2015 ICC World Cup

With just two months until they break a 19-year drought and return to the sport’s biggest stage – the 50-over World Cup – the UAE are a different side.
Khurram Khan, second from right, has served UAE cricket well for many years and will cap a long career with the World Cup. Munir uz Zaman / AFP
Khurram Khan, second from right, has served UAE cricket well for many years and will cap a long career with the World Cup. Munir uz Zaman / AFP

This year has been the best for cricket in this country. The national team played at two World Cups – the Twenty20 and Under 19 versions – and qualified for a third.

Since then, cricket has had a facelift in the emirates. With just two months until they break a 19-year drought and return to the sport’s biggest stage – the 50-over World Cup – the UAE are a different side.

Professional in appearance, yet amateur in status, they have never been better prepared to compete with the sport’s elite. Here is how they have arrived at that point.

Khurram can

Associate level cricket still operates in the sport’s margins. More than anyone else, though, the cricketers of the UAE are deprived the recognition their efforts deserve.

Fourteenth best in the world, yet all of their players have day jobs, and the busiest of them all is the most productive.

How Khurram Khan continues to be overlooked for major awards is beyond belief.

He plays most of his cricket literally on the ICC’s doorstep, at Dubai Sports City.

Clearly, he is hiding in plain sight. At the World Cup qualifier in New Zealand in January, the flight purser scored more runs – by a distance – than anyone. He also took seven wickets, at a miserly rate.

The panel, though, opted to give the player of the tournament award to Scotland’s Preston Mommsen.

At least, Khurram will finally get the chance to play at the World Cup, the most fitting stage for the best cricketer to play for the UAE.

Bangladesh blues

Saying the UAE froze when they played at the World Twenty20 in March is perhaps harsh.

The bright lights did show up how much they needed to improve to compete at the 50-over version in 2015, though. Three defeats from three matches was a poor return for the national team in Bangladesh.

They dropped five catches in the tournament opener against the Netherlands and they never recovered. It has always been a problem.

They will never be natural fielders, but they have made moves to right the wrongs before they leave for New Zealand.

In November, they had Paul Collingwood, the former England captain, here for an intensive clinic.

Judged on his own fielding prowess, there can be few better to learn from.

One out, one in

When the team travelled to Perth for an acclimatisation tour in September, there was a notable absentee.

Rohan Mustafa, a key all-rounder and potential future captain, was named in the initial squad but did not make the trip.

Instead, he was embroiled in a row that threatened his residency, his livelihood and his status as an international cricketer.

After a dispute with his employers, Mustafa was eventually found guilty of absconding from duty and sent back to his native Pakistan.

It took him three months to have the decision overturned.

Valuable preparation time was lost, but at least his World Cup dream remains alive.

The team gained much while he was gone, even if two wins and four losses suggests a struggle.

The tour of Australia’s west was chiefly memorable for the return to fitness and form of Saqib Ali, who has been one of the batting pillars for years.

Golden oldie

Platinum, more like. Khurram is just so precious.

When he reached three-figures against Afghanistan last month, to bring up his maiden one-day international century, he was emotional. He looked to the sky and said a prayer.

He had been building up to that moment for about 43 years. When it happened, he became the oldest player to achieve the feat.

He was in celebrated company. The next three on the list were Sanath Jayasuriya, Geoff Boycott and Sachin Tendulkar – all greats from cricket’s mainstream.

“Wow,” Khurram said after he was told about the record. “To be associated with these names is amazing.”

What is more, the UAE also won the series 3-1. It was their first one-day international series win.

Throwaway problems

For some reason, cricketers in the UAE get cited for suspect bowling actions more than anywhere else.

It is sort of ironic, given the sport’s administrators, the ICC, are based here.

Shadeep Silva started the year as an integral part of a side he had served for the best part of a decade and played at the World Twenty20 in Bangladesh.

Because of an illegal bowling action, he ended it by being omitted from the 30-man preliminary squad for the 2015 World Cup.

He only found the news out late, though, as he was in hospital where his wife was giving birth to a baby daughter.

After delayed testing because of visa problems, Nasir Aziz was ordered not to bowl his doosra any more.

Salman Farooq, the off-spinner, and Mohammed Shahzad, the seam bowling all-rounder, also have testing pending after they were reported by officials in the Afghanistan series.

pradley@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter at SprtNationalUAE

Published: December 23, 2014 04:00 AM

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