ABU DHABI // Nasir Aziz must be experiencing some pretty strange emotions right now. He was reported for a suspect action after the UAE’s very first game in the World T20 Qualifier last Friday.
Yet he remains at the centre of an impressive start to the group stages by the hosts; he was again instrumental in helping the UAE beat hitherto unbeaten Hong Kong comfortably by seven wickets on Tuesday.
That win leaves the UAE briefly in second place in Group A and in strong hold of a top-three berth that could eventually see them head to Bangladesh next March with a shot at playing in the World Twenty20.
Aziz’s second spell was the vital one, stifling Hong Kong’s aspirations of a biggish total. At 93 for two after 12 overs, with captain Jamie Atkinson in buoyant form, a total of 170 was not outlandish.
Aziz had already picked up one, but when he came back on, he strangled the rate and took two wickets in the 18th over to puncture those hopes. Manjula Guruge picked up two more in the next and suddenly the total was well within range. “Those two are our main bowlers,” Khurram Khan, the UAE captain, said after the win. “Whenever we need wickets, or to break a partnership or to put a brake on the runs, we call on them.
“They’ve been performing throughout and it’s routine now that they come back in their second spells and put the brakes on.”
Aziz has seven wickets for the tournament now, but also one lingering question mark. He has been reported once before, in 2011, though he was then cleared. He now faces an anxious wait to see how much further he will be allowed to participate.
The Emirates Cricket Board has to send in a report on his action to the ICC within seven days of the original call; the UAE’s next game is against Canada on Friday, a week from when Aziz was called. Only on the basis of that report will the UAE know of Aziz’s future involvement.
Not that it is worrying him, as Khurram conceded, or the team, particularly.
“It’s not affected him at all,” Khurram said. “He’s been bowling superbly throughout it all and it’s kind of cleared his mind. He just wants to go and bowl out there, whatever happened has happened. It doesn’t affect us so much. We have good bench strength, three other bowlers sitting in wait. We’re going to take it one game at a time.”
It is a batsmen’s game so the final word — and match award — went to Khurram himself. He has become a bit of an Atlas for the UAE’s batting and it was his composed 67, unbeaten, that led them home.
They were struggling when he walked in, at 22 for two. He took a few balls to settle down, but once he had stepped out and caressed a boundary over extra cover, he was away.
The real burst came from the ninth over onwards, two fours and a flurry of sixes — four from Khurram alone — effectively settling the chase. Two wickets as well meant the award was deserved.
“When I was coming into bat, I was just thinking today is my day,” he said. “I have to go out there and bat. The wicket was very good if you play normal, proper cricket.
“We have to keep winning because with three, four games left, it’s going to move around. We’ll take it one game at a time and try to keep winning. That’s the best way to qualify.”