The UAE got their World Twenty20 qualifying campaign off to a winning note as captain Rohan Mustafa led from the front in their six-wicket victory over Qatar.
Chasing 143 after a three-wicket haul from Mohammad Naveed, the UAE reached their target with nine balls to spare thanks to a superb 71-run effort from Mustafa.
The all-rounder usually opens the innings but was sent down the batting order at No.3. But the change didn’t have any impact with the 29-year-old hitting five sixes and two fours in his 45-ball stay.
Openers Ashfaq Ahmed and Chirag Suri both scored 16 while Mohammed Bootha remained unbeaten on 20.
For Mustafa, he was pleased with his performance and confirmed he will play the entire tournament at number three.
“We wanted to try Chirag and Ashfaq as the opening batsmen because for me I can bat in any position,” he said. “Ashfaq plays well while Suri takes his time but can score big runs. It was a decision that was taken on Thursday when the coach asked me and I said it wouldn’t be a problem. I will play at number three for the rest of the tournament.”
The UAE will be aiming to make it two straight wins when they meet Saudi Arabia on Saturday to boost their hopes of claiming one of the three qualification spots.
The national team open their Asian Sub Regional Qualifier campaign on Friday against Qatar as they bid to claim one of the three places that would see them advance to the next qualifying stage.
With hosts Kuwait, Maldives, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain also in the mix, the UAE are strong favourites to win the competition considering they are the top-ranked side.
But, Brown has warned his players to not underestimate any of their opponents.
“We have just come back from a couple of tournaments (World Cricket League Division Two and World Cup Qualifier) where the form guide goes out of the window,” said the 48-year-old.
“What we need to do, is not worry about being favourites or not. We have to go out there and grab the game by the scruff of the neck in every match. That means we have to stay in the game and keep ahead of the game.
“We are a team on paper, will be the form team over there but ultimately if you don’t get your skills right and don’t commit as a team, you’ll end up falling short. It’s a global tournament and you can’t afford to go into the second or third game trying to win them. Every game we have to go out there and try and dominate and that that is what we’ll be trying to achieve.”
The UAE will be playing in the shortest format of the game for the first time in a year with their last T20 match coming in April 2017 when they defeated Papua New Guinea. Since then, they have been playing a majority of 50-over matches in the build-up to last month’s World Cup Qualifier.
But the players have stepped up their preparations in the recently-concluded T20 Inter-Emirate tournament and along with their familiarity with the shortest format, it bodes well for their chances in Kuwait City.
“Since I came over over here full-time, we have spent very little time playing T20 cricket,” said Brown.
“We have spent most of the time trying to get T20 cricket out of the players. It’s a format they play so much of and hopefully that will play into our hands a little bit but there’s a number of good teams that will be out there and try to beat us. We know that and we have to be on top of our game.”
Nawaz, 18, was skipper of the national team that reached the Youth Asia Cup last November after winning all four matches in the Western Region Qualifiers.
He scored two half-centuries in that competition and having continued to impress in the domestic circuit, the Emirates Cricket Board selectors rewarded him with a place in the 14-man squad for the Asian Sub Regional Qualifier in Kuwait.
The batsman faces a tough task in breaking into the starting 11 but says the call-up will be a learning curve.
“I am very happy and thankful to have been called up for the senior team,” he said. “This is like a dream come true for me.
“I was more surprised about being called up and I really cannot explain in words my happiness because that was my only goal in life and I am genuinely very happy.
“During the tournament, I want to keep challenging myself and learn how to adapt to different conditions, so this is another step towards that.
“It’s only going to put me in good stead and getting to understand how they play. It will be good for me to learn from the seniors.”
He added: “I’ve worked a lot on my batting and bowling skills and also my fitness. I have to thank Shahzad Altaf at Young Talent Cricket Academy for the great support.”
Head coach Dougie Brown says he’s been impressed by Nawaz and hinted more youngsters could follow in his footsteps for future matches and tournaments.
“Clearly he had a very good Under-19 Asia Cup and we know that he has been playing very well since he’s come back from there,” the 47-year-old said. “We think he’s a young talented player and with our next global tournament being the 2020 World Twenty, we see this tournament as a development opportunity for maybe a couple of players to get really valuable experience.”
The UAE will take on Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Maldives and Saudi Arabia with the top three sides qualifying for the next stage of the tournament.
The national selectors have kept faith with the majority of the players from the World Cup Qualifiers with senior players Ahmed Raza and Shaiman Anwar rested for the tour.