UAE captain Khurram Khan admits the road ahead is going to get tougher after leading the nation to their first World Cup since 1996.
The qualification capped a remarkable few months for UAE, having reached the World T20 in November and now the 50-over format next year.
Speaking after arriving in Dubai from New Zealand, Khan said: “We would have to spend a lot of time together as a team. “We want to be better athletes and better players. We know we have to work harder. It’s going to be a tough journey for us now and things will definitely not be easy.”
The 42-year-old was in fine form during his side’s qualifying campaign, finishing the tournament as the highest run-scorer with 581 runs including one century.
The captain said fitness will be a priority for the team. “The commitment is there. We need to have good fitness levels so we can at least take on the top nations and even if we can’t play the top teams every ODI match will help us. Fitness is top of the agenda.
“Before going to New Zealand we spoke about what we needed to do. From Wednesday, we will be working out and practising.
“The coach (Aaqib Javed) is worried about fitness. He has told us to concentrate hard, work hard and give it our best shot,” said Khan, whose team hit the gym after their 41-run loss against Scotland in the qualifying final on Sunday.
Hours after his team received a heroes’ welcome in Dubai on Tuesday, UAE coach Aaqib Javed is hoping his part-time players will be rewarded with professional contracts for what will be a busy 12 months for the Gulf nation.
UAE cricketers were given bouquets on their arrival in the early hours of the morning as they were received by Waleed Bukhatir, Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) member and Zayed Abbas of Dubai Cricket Council as well as family members and friends after they qualified for next year’s World Cup.
Javed’s side claimed one of the two automatic spots and gained ODI status for the next four years.
Next year UAE will be playing matches against India and Pakistan at the showpiece event. The team will be back on the cricket ground tonight for a training session and Javed believes turning professional will make a huge difference to their preparations for the World Cup.
“My players are not professionals which I want them to be,” he said. “I want to request the ECB to make the players fully professionals because once you qualify for the T20 World Cup, the 50-over World Cup and then gaining ODI status it’s all professional cricket.
“If they’re are made full time professionals then I think that will make huge difference to them making the 2015 World Cup team.
“There should be 20 contracted players and they should be working full-time. We hardly have daytime sessions to practise. We have only been able to practise in the evening.
“There’s a huge difference between playing daytime and in the evenings under the lights. Once you are professional then we can have longer training sessions like players doing a fitness session in the morning, target games and practise matches in the afternoon.
“I think if the players are available full-time, we can surprise a few teams. I’m hoping for some news in the next few weeks,” said the former Pakistan bowler.
Speaking of whether playing ODIs can help his players become professionals, Javed replied: “As we are an associate country and we have now earned ODI status, hopefully the sport here will get more money. If we have money then we can definitely try to give them contracts.”
Whether his players are given professional contracts or not, the 41-year-old insists this year will be tough. “It’s going to be a really tough year.
We have the World T20 in Bangladesh and then a few ICC tournaments,” he said. “I want them to train five days a week with different sort of training, bowling, fielding, batting.
It will help us improve on all aspects and what we need to work on. The conditions and opposition will be really tough in Australia and New Zealand,” added the coach.
With Pakistan playing in the UAE regularly, Javed is hoping visiting teams will be able to play his side. He said: “We have a very good venue because Pakistan are regularly playing here. Whenever Pakistan are around or other strong nations which will be playing Pakistan, we will try to request one of the teams to play one or more ODIs against us.
“We will definitely play ODI matches this year. We want to play a few within three or four months. A lot depends on Pakistan’s series.”
The eyes of the cricketing world will once again turn to the UAE later this month when the country hosts a global International Cricket Council (ICC) tournament for the very first time.
On 14 February the UAE will play host to the Under-19 World Cup – a tournament that features the finest young talent from some 16 nations – and it could not be coming at a better time.
Cricket is thriving in the region, partly thanks to Pakistan playing their home series in the country but also due to the huge success that the United Arab Emirates cricket team have enjoyed in the past few months.
Led by inspirational captain Khurram Khan, the UAE have qualified for the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2015 and have even been awarded ODI status for the next four years as they look to take on the very best countries in the world.
Khan hopes that UAE cricket can turn professional before the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, further encouraging youngsters to take up the sport.
Playing host to a major international tournament will also help attract a new audience beyond the fanatic Pakistan fans who turn out in their droves to watch Misbah-ul-Haq’s side.
David East, the Chief Executive of the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB), is hopeful that by hosting the U19 World Cup, the UAE will begin to establish itself as a viable international cricket destination for the more established nations.
“It is great honour for us to have been asked to stage this major event for the ICC,” East said. “It is a very significant milestone in the development of the UAE’s profile in international cricket, and will showcase the country as an ideal destination for global events.”
Outlining why the UAE is a great choice for global cricket events East added: “We are very fortunate to have three world class stadia in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah with all being very experienced at delivering regular international cricket.
“In addition we are very well positioned geographically with excellent transport, hotels and cultural activities, making travel to the country a simple and pleasurable experience for players and supporters alike.
“The weather in February should also be perfect for the tournament and with the UAE being one of the safest places in the world to visit, it makes for an ideal destination for international events such as this,” East explained.
The United Arab Emirates U19 team will be captained by Rohit Singh, who also led the team during the Asian Cricket Council U19 Asia Cup.
This will be the first time the UAE will be contending in the U19 World Cup, and Singh is eager for his side to impress on the world stage. “The entire team is tremendously excited and looking forward to not just being part of something historic, but also making some history with its performances.
" It will certainly be a step up for us after the Asia Cup, mentally we have to gear up and be stronger.”
Defending Champions India are bidding to become the first team to win four Under-19 titles. They face Pakistan in their first fixture of the tournament and skipper Vijay Zol is pumped up to face India’s biggest rivals
“The exciting tournament format means there will be no easy matches, and when your first game of the tournament is against Pakistan, you simply have to hit the ground running,” Zol said.
As well as an exciting array of talent on display, the country’s top class facilities will be on show throughout the tournament. In Abu Dhabi, the iconic Zayed Cricket Stadium together with two nursery ovals will be serving as grounds for the tournament.
Dubai’s state of the art international venue with two more ovals at the ICC Cricket academy will also host some of the U-19 teams.
The historic Sharjah stadium, which boasts the world record for hosting the most one day international matches, will be the seventh venue.
All 16 teams will play a total of 48 matches across seven venues in the tournament.
The teams contesting for the U-19 Championship are: Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, England, India, Namibia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Scotland, South Africa, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, West Indies and Zimbabwe.