DUBAI // A telling marker of just how humble the part-time players from the UAE remain, despite their success, could be discerned by the fact it was difficult to tell what they were more excited about on Wednesday night. It was either that they had just conquered a Netherlands side who beat England a few months ago, to go within touching distance of their goal - a place in the World Twenty20 in West Indies - or the fact they had the chance to have a photo taken with Aleem Dar, the elite panel umpire from Pakistan.
The souvenir picture Qasim Zubair had taken with the ICC umpire of the year, with his own man-of-the-match award also prominently on display, has probably already got pride of place on the mantelpiece at Chez Zubair. The young seam bowler took five wickets, including that of Ryan ten Doeschate, the Netherlands all-rounder who is so highly regarded he was a lot on the latest Indian Premier League auction list, for a duck, to seal the UAE's advance to today's Super Four stage.
"This is the best feeling I have had as a UAE cricketer - especially because it is an ICC competition and we have a chance of going to the World Cup," said Zubair. "Performing in this tournament is a dream, because it is a platform for the World Cup." If the host nation beat either of their Super Four opponents, they might as well book their tickets to the Caribbean straight away. They could soon share the same global stage as the likes of Yuvraj Singh, Shahid Afridi and MS Dhoni. Dhoni, the most bankable man in an increasingly commercialised global game, has such a busy schedule he opted to miss India's Test series in Sri Lanka last year.
The pressures of international cricket: perhaps India's captain should try Zubair's workload for size. The bowler, 22, only attends nets once he has completed a day of work in his family's foodstuffs company in Sharjah. Even then, his commitments with the national team have to be fitted around his evening lectures at Heriot Watt University in Dubai, where he is studying part-time for a masters in strategic project management.
"As a cricketer, hopefully this is the start of me cementing my place in the UAE national side," added Zubair, who was thrifty again with the new ball in the 42-run trouncing of Canada yesterday. Some of the players have already been star-struck just playing in this qualifier. "We want this so bad," said Naeemuddin Aslam, whose unbeaten half-century was the bedrock of the decisive win over the Netherlands. "We don't get opportunities like this all the time, to play against big teams and do well at the same time. It is amazing to think, 'Wow, I have just played against Kenya', or 'I've just hit Thomas Odoyo for six', or 'I've just taken Steve Tikolo's catch'.
"Steve Tikolo? He's like the Sachin Tendulkar of Associate cricket. It is one thing to play against these guys and another to succeed against them. It takes you to a totally new high. That is what we are living for right now." The UAE begin their pursuit of an all-important place in Sunday evening's final at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium when they face Ireland this afternoon. They have carried over the points from their win against the Netherlands in the group stage, meaning a triumph over either Afghanistan or the Irish could be enough to take them to the World Twenty20.
The UAE and Afghanistan are the only sides with 100 per cent records left. The two Asian rivals met in the final of the ACC Twenty20 Trophy last year, a tournament Afghanistan eventually won. firstname.lastname@example.org