UAE coach Qasim Ali has challenged his team to go all the way and lift the Asian Cricket Council’s Western Region Under-16 title as the hosts open their campaign against Oman on Monday.
The UAE are one of six teams (Oman, Maldives, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) vying for the trophy in a competition that has already been postponed twice.
The 35-over tournament had been scheduled to be held in Kuwait in September but political unrest forced the ACC to move it to Thailand in November.
The event was later postponed with the ACC switching the venue to Sharjah and Ajman last month.
As hosts, the team, which will be led by all-rounder Aryan Lakra, will be familiar with home conditions and Ali is confident his players will rise to the occasion although he remains wary of the nations that stand in front of them.
“There’s obviously a lot of expectation to go and win it on home turf,” said Ali, who is also head of cricket development at ICC Academy.
“Whatever matches or tournament the UAE enters, they always want to win and play some competitive cricket. The fact that it’s in Sharjah will give a little bit of advantage but it all comes down to what happens on the day.
“As it’s such a short tournament anything can happen. We’re confident of our chances. We have to face Oman and the Maldives. Oman national team is a highly competitively side and I’m guessing the juniors will be very similar.
“The Maldives are an unknown quantity and we can’t take them lightly.”
Despite beginning their preparations with an intense training camp in June, Ali says the postponement will only have a positive impact on his side.
“It’s an advantage because you get more time to work with them,” he said. “To be honest, nobody really knows anything what to expect from the other sides in the Under-16 tournament.
“From our point of view, the lads have gone back to their own academies and have performed well in their domestic games and we are physically and mentally ready for this tournament.”
Innovation is the name of the game and the UAE witnessed the birth of a potentially game-changing format this weekend.
The T10 League made its debut in Sharjah with some big international and recently retired stars fighting it out over 10 overs in 90-minute encounters, hoping to squeeze in even more action than a Twenty20 game and hopefully create a new product for cricket consumers to enjoy.
It is a great idea. As has been the case with most cricket innovations, the idea here is to keep the game moving ahead while attracting a more diverse group of fans.
Taking cricket to new markets has been the ultimate target for administrators for a long time with very little success. The United States is one territory cricket is desperate to find a foothold in while the Olympics remains a bridge too far as the Indian board refuses to warm up to the idea of competing at a truly global stage.
The arrival of T10, therefore, adds another intriguing element to the mix. Matches that last 90 minutes can be sold to any sporting fan and, even among existing cricket fans, the new format offers even more bang for the buck.
However, the inaugural T10 League edition didn’t go off as smoothly as expected. Firstly, a stream of negative news emanated from Pakistan a few weeks before the league started. There were serious concerns about how much the league will impact Pakistan’s highly-valuable T20 product – PSL – as the T10 League has the complete backing of the Pakistan board and features its contracted players. Also, PSL franchises feared the dilution of the UAE market with a similar league featuring star names around winter time.
Then, before the start of the league on December 14, a slew of star names like Kumar Sangakkara, Rangana Herath, Sunil Narine and Mustafizur Rahman became unavailable for selection.
Also, the schedule itself was hectic to say the least. Four matches were held each day on Friday and Saturday, with the final match of the night finishing well beyond midnight in Sharjah. If the teams are playing so late into the night, the league can’t possibly reach the greatest number of eyeballs.
The crowd response, however, was good with around 12,000 remaining at the stadium on a rainy Saturday evening.
The format has everything going for it. It is fast, has big names, enjoys the support of cricket boards and the ICC, and can be taken to new markets while retaining the basic structure of the sport.
However, the first edition could have definitely done without the negative publicity from the main country that was backing it. How it placates aggrieved parties will decide the structure and scale of the tournament next year.
Also, the league somehow didn’t launch with the same amount of fanfare that T20 and pink ball cricket had in order to make a blockbuster debut. However, that’s something a bolder marketing strategy can easily solve.
The plan is to stage matches in the UAE for the next 10 years and possibly take the carnival to Pakistan and maybe even the US.
While it’s too early to talk about expansion plans, T10 looks like a revolutionary addition.
Now it’s about sustaining the model and ensuring it doesn’t fizzle out like another UAE-based short format tournament – the Masters Champions League – that folded last year without paying many players their dues.
Here’s hoping for the best.
Just hours after scoring his first half-century of the evening, Eoin Morgan stole the show again with another fifty as Kerala Kings made history by becoming the first winners of the T10 League.
The 31-year-old had scored 53 in the team’s five-wicket semi-final victory over Maratha Arabians and the skipper led by example, combining with Paul Stirling (52no) to deliver another stunning performance in the eight-wicket win over Punjabi Legends on Sunday.
Needing 121 to win, Morgan astonishingly smashed 63 runs from just 20 deliveries with six maximums and five fours to light up Sharjah Stadium. Such was the significance of his knock that when he was removed by Hasan Ali, he received a round of applause by the fans around the stadium. As winners, each member of the squad will receive 100 grams of gold.
Before a ball was even bowled, there was already big numbers outside the stadium – some who were fortunate to have tickets while others hoping to buy some for the last day.
It was all to see three matches – both semi-finals and final but more significantly a chance to see the likes of Morgan and Shahid Afridi, in particular, in action for the last time in this format before the tournament returns for another 12 months.
Those 13,000 spectators were treated to something special. First, Morgan’s half-century. After that, Afridi smashed a 17-ball 41 while Ahmed Shehzad hit a half-ton only for it to go in vain as Luke Ronchi’s 60no and Shoaib Malik’s 48no blistering knocks rocked the stadium as Punjabi Legends thrashed Pakhthoons by nine wickets.
And that was just the semi-finals. The final between Kerala Kings and Punjabi Legends itself didn’t disappoint either.
With the atmosphere still vibrant at the start of the game at 22:30, those who stayed back witnessed an exhilarating encounter.
While Umar Akmal was bowled by Liam Plunkett, Ronchi picked up where he left off in the semi-final by hitting his second fifty of the day. By the time he reached his milestone, it was his fifth maximum and fourth four of the match.
Malik was lucky to still be at the crease with his sliced shot in the air falling short of the fielder at eight runs. But he made the most of the lifeline with his first six later on, before another maximum to bring up the team’s 100.
He was finally beaten by Ryad Emrit’s short ball before Plunkett removed the dangerman Ronchi for the first time after his 70.
Kings’ chase got off the worst possible start with Chadwick Walton out for a first-ball duck. But Morgan again showed why he’s one of the most destructive batsmen in limited-overs cricket.
The 31-year-old took apart young Pakistan pacer Faheem Ashraf with 24 runs including a six that went 113 metres onto the roof of the stands.
When Stirling got into the act with three consecutive sixes, Morgan showed no reprieve to his former England team-mate Ravi Bopara with three maximums and a four.
That left Kerala needing 29 from the next five overs and just 19 more deliveries to reach their target.
Enough said. Enough done.
Champions 2017 👑 pic.twitter.com/IRW7OJkoPM
— Kerala kings (@KeralaKingsT10) December 17, 2017