The UAE were beaten by two wickets in a rain-hit Asia Cup Qualifier final in Malaysia on Thursday which ended their dream of playing glamorous ties against Pakistan and India on home soil later this month.
Having made his debut in 2007, captain Mustafa has experienced the ups and downs of being part of the national set-up and insists the latest loss was one of the lowest of his international career.
“For me, it was the most painful defeat in my career,” said the 29-year-old. “We are hurting but it’s part of the game. The guys were really emotional especially the youngsters but it’s part of the game because sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I’m confident we will practice hard next time and come back hard again.”
Having arrived back from Kuala Lumpur on Friday, Mustafa says despite failing for the Asia Cup, he reflects back on the Qualifier tournament with plenty of positives.
“Over the last 10 days, the team performance was very good. We played really well against Oman and won four out of six matches,” added the all-rounder.
“We should have qualified for the tournament since it was held in the UAE and it would have been a good opportunity for us to showcase our talent to the world. We are disappointed but still we will watch the games. We wish Hong Kong the best of luck because we want them to perform well.”
Opening batsmen Chirag Suri (220) and Ashfaq Ahmed (224) finished as the top two run-scorers in the tournament while Ahmed Raza was named man of the series after taking 16 wickets.
Mustafa praised those players as well as the experience that Rahul Bhatia and Fahad Nawaz gained.
“We brought in two youngsters on the tour which is very encouraging and they have learnt a lot from that,” added Mustafa. “Suri did a great job and that’s a big positive because he has a long career ahead of him and can be one of the best batsman. Even Ashfaq did a good job as well as Raza with the ball.”
Head coach Dougie Brown was ‘gutted’ that the UAE missed out on qualification for the Asia Cup on home soil but has backed his players to bounce back strongly.
The UAE will have to watch the likes of Pakistan and India instead of facing them after Hong Kong beat them by two wickets in Thursday’s final to claim the lone berth for the main stage.
Brown’s troops scored 176-9 in an innings which started as a 50-over encounter before it was reduced to 24 overs due to rain. That score was largely thanks to aggressive batting from Ashfaq Ahmed’s 79 as well as quick-fire hitting from the rest of the team as UAE scored 114 runs in less than nine overs.
However, Hong Kong reached their revised target of 179 with three balls to spare to book dream ties with Pakistan and India in Group A later this month.
Despite the result, Brown was proud of his players’ efforts but questioned the Duckworth-Lewis method after only two runs were added for Hong Kong’s target.
“Am pretty gutted about the outcome,” said the 48-year-old. “The rain intervened at inappropriate times. To get where we got to was an outstanding effort by the batsmen and to score around a hundred runs in the last eight overs was a phenomenal effort. Hong Kong took the game to us and every time they did a mistake, it went into their favour. It was one of those days where it didn’t go our way.
Thanks for your hospitality Kuala Lumpur. Absolutely gutted we couldn’t get across the line yesterday. So proud of every member of the squad @emiratescricket Mr Duckworth and Mr Lewis need to have another look at the modern game! pic.twitter.com/LaQueyyhb3— Dougie Brown (@dougie1brown) September 7, 2018
“Just a two-run adjustment was added to the score after spending so long in our innings in a 24-over game. I thought this was the kind of thing that the Duckworth-Lewis method was meant to avoid and is hasn’t. Yet, we did really well considering things went against us and we deserve a lot of credit for that.”
He added: “Having said that, we can compete and have got a team of guys who will give everything when they need to do. That is one of the biggest changes that I have seen as UAE coach and I cannot talk more highly of the players for the way they played their cricket in this tournament.
“I can tell you we are hungry and I expect them to react in a positive way to everything as this moment (of missing out) is something we do not want to suffer again.”
Only one berth was available for the main stage which takes place in Dubai and Abu Dhabi from September 15, and, for the second time in five days, Hong Kong triumphed against the UAE when they chased 176 in a rain-hit game in Kuala Lumpur.
With the tournament done and dusted, here are the takeaways from UAE’s participation in Malaysia.
NO NEED TO PANIC
Despite not achieving their objective of qualification, the national team shouldn’t be majorly worried. On paper, the UAE were strong favourites to reach the main competition given they were the highest-ranked nation in the six-team tournament. But as the results have shown in the last 11 days, it’s about how the team plays on that day. Four wins in six games (including topping the group standings) as well as scoring more than 1,000 runs scored is just one positive the UAE can take from Kuala Lumpur, while more importantly, there’s still a lot of quality at Brown’s disposal.
The former Warwickshire coach lauded his players’ efforts throughout the tournament for the way they played and rightly so. It’s unclear when the players will be donning the national colours again but whether that is later this year or in 2019, expect the players to bounce back.
Sadly this tournament comes to an end for us. We fought our level best but few things turned against us.— Rohan Mustafa (@rohanmustafa88) September 6, 2018
I would like to thank each and everyone of you for supporting us throughout our Asia Cup Qualifiers journey.
congratulations to Hong Kong team for the way they played👍
AHMED RAZA, CHIRAG SURI AND ASHFAQ AHMED SHINE
Having made his international debut way back in April 2006 as a 17-year-old, Ahmed Raza is still going strong and more importantly still producing the goods. The left-arm spinner is one of the most experienced members in the squad alongside captain Rohan Mustafa, pacer Mohammad Naveed and batsman Shaiman Anwar. Rested for the pre-Asia World Twenty20 Qualifiers in April, his displays in Malaysia were evidence of how valuable he is. In the six games he played, he finished as the highest wicket-taker with 16 scalps while going at just 3.86 runs per over. It wasn’t enough to help the UAE reach the Asia Cup but his efforts saw him named Man of the Series.
At the crease, openers Chirag Suri (224) and Ashfaq Ahmed (220) let the bat do the talking as they finished in the top-two run-scorers of the competition. Suri, who broke into the senior team last year, could not have asked for a better start when he scored his maiden century for the senior side – hitting 111 against Singapore before following it up with a 65 against against Nepal. Runs were hard to come by for the remainder of the tournament but the 23-year-old’s 220-run tally shows why he is highly rated.
Another person who continues to impress is Ahmed. He’s barely been in the set-up after making his debut in December 2017 but in the eight months, a string of strong displays has cemented his spot at the top-order. After hitting a half-century against Singapore, Ahmed flourished the final – smashing 79 runs from 51 deliveries which gave the UAE a fighting chance. He already has two fifties in his nine ODIs but given his form, it’s only a matter of time before he reaches triple figures.
ABILITY TO PLAY UNDER PRESSURE
The UAE are no strangers when it comes to pressure. In February, at the World Cricket League Champions Division Two, they defeated hosts Namibia and Oman in must-win matches to keep their hopes of securing ODI status alive before retaining it until 2022 during the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe a month later.
In Malaysia, Brown’s side found themselves in the same position. Their 182-run loss to Hong Kong meant defeat was not an option when they faced Malaysia and Oman to keep their hopes of finishing in the top-two in the table. They did exactly that – firstly beating Malaysia before overcoming an Oman side in a must-win clash in their final group game to book their place in the final.
Although the UAE couldn’t complete the job against Hong Kong in the final (losing with three balls to spare), Mustafa and Co have proved again they have the mindset to deal with such pressure in match situations.