Kabir Khan optimistic about UAE's title bid despite draw

Emirates miss out on outright victory as Afghanistan hold on to their last three wickets on the final day of the Intercontinental Cup match in Sharjah.

Kabir Khan, right, says the UAE are capable of winning the Intercontinental Cup this year.
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SHARJAH // Kabir Khan, the UAE coach, insists that the national team are better equipped to win the Intercontinental Cup than the Afghanistan side he first took charge of in 2008 ever were.

The Afghans won the competition at the first attempt last year, even though their players had not wanted to play the long-format of the game at first, according to their former coach.

They encountered some unexpected resistance at the start of the defence of their title, however, after being dominated for the vast majority of their meeting with the UAE in Sharjah.

Arshad Ali, the UAE all-rounder, was named man of the match on Saturday for his nine-wicket match-haul, but it was not quite enough for the national team to force victory.

The Afghans, who are known for their free-hitting batting, had three second-innings wickets remaining when stumps were drawn, after batting 80 overs for their 131 for seven.

Kabir believes the match provided plenty of reasons to believe the UAE can succeed in the competition, which is a first-class tournament for the eight leading nations outside of the Test sphere.

"When Afghanistan played their first four-day game when I was their coach, most of them did not want to play four-day cricket," said Kabir, who left Afghanistan last summer after three years in charge.

"I managed to get them to come and play four days, but it was too big for them.

"Nobody knew they were going to be champions of that tournament back then. It was the first time the played four-day cricket, and they won it. We have a lot of experience in this [UAE] team.

"I think these guys are mentally prepared and are more capable of doing well than the new Afghanistan team were."

The national team have gone far to prove they belong at this level, having spent last year languishing in the now defunct, second-tier Intercontinental Shield competition.

A second successive victory, following a rousing away win in Kenya in July, was agonisingly close on Saturday.

The Afghans were reliant on a fine rearguard by Mohammed Nabi, their vice captain. He made a sparkling century in the first innings, studded by a string of massive sixes.

His second-innings effort was a total contrast, as his turgid unbeaten 35 arrived from 153 balls.

As the runs totally dried up, Vikrant Shetty, the UAE off-spinner, remarkably returned six successive maidens, and did not leak a single run in the Afghan innings off his bowling.

Arshad came closest to finding a way through the stonewalling, adding three wickets to the six he took the day before - which was a fine return, bearing in mind he was selected as an opening batsman.

"I didn't get runs [in] this match, and I know that I can be a good all-rounder for my team but I have to perform," Arshad said.

"I did not perform this time with the bat, but it was not easy to get nine wickets on this wicket."

The UAE will go into two 50-over matches against the same opposition this week with morale high, after seeing how pleased the Afghans were to scrape a draw against them.

"The disappointing thing for us was the fact the boys did all the hard work in the first session [in bowling the UAE out] then lost our way in the second session by losing wickets," said Aftab Habib, Afghanistan's caretaker coach.

"We put ourselves under pressure, but we hung in there. Usually the boys go for it, but the pitch was turning more by the end, so the pleasing thing for us was to draw the game."


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