Nineteen years after they made their debut on the grand stage, the UAE are out to regale the world with their exploits once again. It’s their second 50-over World Cup appearance and this time there seems a lot more purpose and structure in their effort with the team starting to resemble the professional outfit it is keen to become.
The UAE team begin their World Cup campaign in the early hours of tomorrow morning against Zimbabwe and it offers them a good opportunity to ease into the tournament and get their bearings right before they face bigger teams. But it won’t be easy.
Although on paper Zimbabwe don’t look as threatening as South Africa, India or Pakistan in Group B, they are making the big teams sweat it out. In the warm-up match against Sri Lanka, the Zimbabweans were in sizzling form as they restricted the former world champions to 279 and then chased down the runs with nearly five overs to spare and seven wickets in hand. And it wasn’t a flash in the pan.
"If Tauqir’s team minimise errors on the field, take the chances on offer and bat and bowl with a positive intent it will be half the battle won for them"
Against the Proteas on Sunday, they gave AB de Villiers and co. a mighty scare as they made a spirited attempt while chasing 340 and ended up scoring 277.
That they managed to take Dale Steyn for 64 runs from nine overs is an outstanding achievement, irrespective of how flat a wicket it was at Hamilton.
The UAE will have to come up with a plan to contain strong Zimbabwe batting.
The likes of Hamilton Masakadza and Brendan Taylor are top class batsmen and if they get going, Mohammad Tauqir’s boys will fall behind quickly.
Since Zimbabwe have proved to be excellent chasers, it won’t be a bad idea for the UAE to bowl first and chase whatever target the African side set. That way, the bowlers can make the most of any early moisture in the pitch.
Khurram Khan will once again shoulder the responsibility when it comes to batting and the 43-year-old will be desperate to make the most of this golden opportunity.
A World Cup match on a beautiful batting surface against a weak bowling attack doesn’t come by every day. However, he will need a good start from openers Andri Berenger and Amjad Ali.
When it comes to bowling, captain Tauqir will need to juggle his resources well and make the best use of Mohammad Naved’s overs with the new cherry as the ball can lose its sting pretty quickly in ODIs.
But more than the actual result, the UAE must look to get their processes correct in the game. The opposition will only get tougher from now on, as even Ireland are giving the big teams a lot to worry about after their win over the West Indies.
Victory against Zimbabwe will definitely be a boost but the UAE should concentrate on getting their basics right and let the result take care of itself.
If Tauqir’s team minimise errors on the field, take the chances on offer and bat and bowl with a positive intent, that will be half the battle won for them.
Don’t forget, this is still not a full-time professional cricket team. They have made it to the World Cup while squeezing all the training in between their daily schedule. And coach Aaqib Javed must be commended for taking the team this far. Who is to say they won’t exceed expectation and pull off a shock result or two? We wish them the best of luck.
Pakistan are 1-0 down in their World Cup campaign, 1-0 down against arch-rivals India and must overcome that mental scarring in order to kickstart a winning run. There is significantly less margin for error now.
Zimbabwe’s spirited fight against South Africa and Ireland’s stunning win over West Indies have rung alarm bells for the more established cricketing nations in Group B – results that showed nothing can be taken for granted.
Honestly speaking, it was nothing short of panic that prevailed a day before Pakistan’s opening match against India when it was decided by the team management that veteran Younis Khan would open the innings – despite there being two more obvious candidates.
Mohammad Hafeez being ruled out with injury was a major blow but Nasir Jamshed was called in his place and when selecting the World Cup squad, it was mutually decided that wicketkeeper Sarfaraz Ahmed could do the job as an alternative opener.
In Nasir and Sarafaz, Pakistan had two capable openers, yet Younis started in that spot. And if that was not enough, specialist wicket-keeper Sarfaraz was dropped and Pakistan went with part-timer Umar Akmal to adjust both Sohaib Maqsood and leg-spinner Yasir Shah.
So before the much-anticipated battle with India, Pakistan had disturbed all three bases and were looking vulnerable; there was no plan A, never mind a plan B!
As for the match itself, Pakistan had opportunities to put the Indians on back foot but they failed to grab them. After dismissal of Rohit Sharma, Pakistan could have dismissed Virat Kohli very early but Yasir Shah reacted late as a catch went down.
From there on, the credit must be given to the Indian top-order, which nullified the threat of lanky Mohammad Irfan and Shahid Afridi.
When Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli sensed that runs were hard to come by, they crafted singles and doubles to keep the scoreboard ticking over, striking the odd boundary whenever the chance was presented. Despite a cautious approach, India were cruising with almost six runs per over and it was Suresh Raina who really upped the ante.
Kohli was given another lifeline in his 70s when Akmal missed a simple catch and it proved costly as he along with Raina really thrashed Pakistan. If it was not for Sohail Khan and Wahab Riaz’s express bowling, India would have easily crossed the 330-run mark.
Wahab was bowling with real venom, which was heartening, while Sohail – a last-minute inclusion in the team after much deliberation – showed great temperament when bowling at the death.
I feel happy that I had pushed the case of Sohail after good performances in domestic cricket. Fellow selectors were against his inclusion because of concerns about his fielding and fitness but I stuck to my guns and now he has shown the world what he is capable of.
In my view, the bowlers did their job because stopping the world-class batting lineup of India on 300 was a good job; people must understand that big scores are being posted not because of bats being thicker but because the restrictions have become thinner.
Three hundred is easy to chase in these days with five fielders inside the circle. It was up to the batsman to do the job and they failed badly.
Younis who had been in phenomenal form in the UAE, has not been able to repeat his performances in New Zealand and Australia and there will now be question marks ove his place in the side.
Ahmed Shahzad and Haris Sohail played well for some time but then blocked too many balls which built the pressure and once they got out, the required run-rate was over seven runs per over. One of them should have ensured that the time they spent at the crease was better utilized. Sohaib Maqsood fell to a golden duck playing a reckless shot that really broke Pakistan’s back and then Umar Akmal was caught behind off Ashwin.
— Sport360° (@Sport_360) February 15, 2015
From there on, Afridi and Misbah-ul-Haq should have realised that a win was far away and all they could have done was to play out the overs and get nearer to the score.
However, this was also not achieved and Pakistan could not bat out the full 50 overs, something that may haunt the team because at the end of group stages, I believe that run-rate will come into play. I just hope that Pakistan will not rue failing to play a full 50.
India taught Pakistan a lesson that good players do not only depend on boundaries but can play around with singles and doubles, which are more important than big shots in my opinion.
They taught Pakistan that top players rise to the occasion and perform instead of failing on the big stage.
It is crucial now that head coach Waqar Younis, skipper Misbah and chief selector Moin Khan cheer up the players before their next match.
Pakistan should put the defeat behind them now and with a few days before the next game, the management should now get the players in the right frame of mind.
There are still five more matches to be played and if they are to progress, Pakistan must play specialists in each position; the experiments did not go according to plan in the first match and there is now very little room for more experiments.
UAE are hoping a strong batting performance at the picturesque Saxton Oval would get them off to a dream start in the 2015 World Cup by beating Zimbabwe.
The two teams are expected to bow out in the group stage after the second associate member country in Pool B – Ireland – started their campaign with a sensational win over the West Indies at the same ground on Monday.
It is only the second World Cup for the UAE, and the side is well aware they have a great chance of recording their second win in the tournament against a side that put up a great fight against South Africa in their opening match, but has been struggling in international cricket in recent times.
It would appear that the UAE is coming into the match with a great track record – almost similar to that of pre-tournament favourites Australia and New Zealand – having won four of their last five ODI matches. But those came against Hong Kong and Afghanistan, and this is definitely a different level of cricket.
Despite losing both their practice matches, UAE captain Mohammad Tauqir said the team was high on confidence.
“I thought we did very well against the Australians, and even though we were bowled out for 116, the performance on the field and the fact that we played a full-strength Australia side that was giving its 100 per cent effort on a ground like Melbourne Cricket Ground, was a great boost to our motivation,” said the newly-elected captain.
“I think compared to that match, everything else will be appear easy for us. We have prepared as best as we could for this tournament, and the moment has finally come for each of us to live our dream.”
UAE coach Aaqib Javed said the most crucial aspect of the match would be batting.
“Given the playing conditions, I think the matches in this World Cup are heavily loaded in favour of the batsmen. With the field restrictions, and with the two new balls being used, your only chance as a bowling unit is to keep on attacking, but all you need is a couple of batsmen to get set, and as we have seen in the first few matches, a score of 300 is very much gettable, and in fact, it is important that you score that much,” said Javed.
“I think we have a very good batting line-up and most of the players are looking in good touch. Obviously, a lot will depend on Khurram Khan, and I am glad he is in such a good form.
The one area where both teams will jostle for superiority is fielding, so crucial given how fast the outfield at Nelson is, and the smallish boundaries.
“We have made such a massive improvement in that particular area of the game. I can now say that we are actually a good fielding unit,” added Javed.
“We are aware that this match represents a great opportunity for us to open the campaign on a positive note. Zimbabwe are a Test-playing nation, but they have struggled against teams like Bangladesh. If we can beat them, and then have a couple of good days, who knows, we could be in the quarter-finals.”