UAE captain Rohan Mustafa has told his team-mates to enjoy playing in the ICC World Cup Qualifier, saying all the pressure is on the Test nations and not themselves.
The UAE open their campaign against Papua New Guinea at Zimbabwe’s Harare Sports Club on Sunday, knowing their chances of claiming one of the two spots for the 2019 showpiece event in England are very slim.
That’s because two-time winners and reigning World T20 champions West Indies and Afghanistan will be the two favourites in a 10-team competition that also consists of Ireland, Netherlands, hosts Zimbabwe, Nepal, Scotland and Hong Kong.
But while Mustafa admits nothing is impossible, he will tell his players to “enjoy every game that they play”.
“It’s a big tournament and it’s a good opportunity to make history of reaching the World Cup,” said the all-rounder, whose side were beaten by Nepal and West Indies in two warm-up matches last week.
“It’s a big opportunity but we know it will be difficult. I’ve told every player there is no need to take pressure, just enjoy every game that you play. The pressure will be on the Test nations and not on us.”
There is plenty at stake than just the qualification. The UAE must finish in the top three between Nepal, Scotland, Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea to maintain their ODI status and continue receiving ICC funding until 2022.
For head coach Dougie Brown, he admits his side will give it a real go in the competition but conceded retaining ODI status is a priority.
“Obviously, we come here as a lower-ranked side and it would be wrong of us to just say that we are going to qualify for the World Cup,” said the 48-year-old.
“There are four Test nations here, they are probably, and quite rightly, thinking they have World Cup qualification very much in their hands.
“But for us, retaining the ODI status is very important. In order to do that, we have to qualify for the Super Six. That said, there is a little bit of dream and all of us believe we might qualify for the World Cup.
“Obviously at this stage, a lot of cricket has to be played and we have to play exceptionally well, but we have seen so far in the warm-up games, everybody can beat everybody in this tournament and all we need to do is to get on the right side of good fortune, make sure the players are playing well, which they are, have the confidence and maybe create a little bit of momentum and who knows?”
Imran Haider ranked his four-wicket haul against the West Indies as his career best but was disappointed it went in vain as the UAE fell to a 32-run loss in their World Cup Qualifier warm-up game on Thursday in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Haider, 30, took 4-16 as his leg-spin rattled the reigning World T20 champions. The Caribbean side, who has Chris Gayle in their ranks, were all out for 115 in 33 overs.
But the UAE were unable to seal a famous victory as slow left-arm orthodox bowler Nikita Miller finished with 5-20 as the Associate outfit were dismissed for just 83 runs.
Haider was disappointed at the result but is encouraged by how he is performing going into the World Cup Qualifier, which begins against Papua New Guinea on Sunday.
“To get four wickets is really good and it’s right up there among the best,” he said. “It has given me the confidence that I can do well in the World Cup Qualifier and hopefully I will get more chances to get more wickets when the tournament begins.
“But I’m disappointed we couldn’t get the win but I’m sure we’ll bounce back. I never play just for myself, I play for a team and we all have a part of play if we want to go far.”
The UAE have been drawn alongside West Indies, Ireland, Papua New Guinea and Netherlands in Group A, meaning they can look forward to another fixture against Gayle and Co.
The majority of the UAE players are playing in their first World Cup Qualifier including Haider who is relishing the opportunity of testing himself against some big names.
“We have some big matches coming up and it would be great if we could get a victory over a Test playing nation,” he said. “It’s going to be very interesting because in our two practice matches I don’t think there was much difference for any side. I’m excited to be part of the UAE squad and hopefully we can go to the World Cup.”
Kumble, the former Indian captain and head coach was the chief guest of honour at the 18th edition of the Awards, which recognises the achievements of players and officials over the past season in the UAE’s domestic game.
Altogether 16 awards were presented by India’s highest Test wicket-taker including, for the first-time, the Lifetime Achievement Award which was won by Abdul Rahman Bukhatir. He was instrumental in bringing international cricket to the UAE when Sharjah Cricket Stadium hosted ODI matches in the 1980s and played a prominent role in growing the game in the country.
The accolade was received on behalf of his son Waleed Bukhatir, Emirates Cricket Board member, who said: “To receive such a prestigious award – the lifetime award is very special. He was a cricket lover. He has brought cricket to not only Sharjah but to the region. Back then, some people said don’t waste your time developing a ground but his vision was beyond that. He wanted to get as many international matches as he could and now today Sharjah have staged the most ODIs stages worldwide.
“This is a very nice achievement and this journey will continue and hopefully many more internationals will be hosted.”
Among other winners were UAE internationals Rohan Mustafa and Adnan Mufti. UAE skipper Mustafa was awarded Best ‘A’ Division cricketer for Sharjah Cricket Council while his national team-mate Mufti won Dubai Cricket Council’s prize.
All-rounder Aryan Lakra picked up the Best Under-16 award for Dubai for the second straight year, while Anwer Khan (Abu Dhabi), Shoun Roger (Ajman) and Ansh Tandon (Sharjah) were winners of their respective councils.
For Tandon, he said the award was the icing on the cake after a dominant season that saw him score more than 4,500 runs as well as represent the UAE Under-16 and U-19 teams.
“It really feels great to have got this award,” he said. “I worked really hard over the season and it’s great that I have been able to receive my award from Anil Kumble who is one of the legends in the game.”