The UAE secured their first win of the Asian Cricket Council Premier League after edging past Hong Kong in a low-scoring encounter that went right down to the wire.
Chasing just 158 for victory, Aaqib Javed’s side were reduced to 93-7 in the 30th over as opener Salman Faris, captain Khurram Khan and wicket-keeper Swapnil Patil all failed to make it to double figures.
However, a superb ninth wicket partnership between number seven Fayyaz Ahmed and bowler Mohammad Naveed saw the UAE squeeze home and claim a vital win after losing their first two matches to Nepal and Afghanistan.
Hong Kong had also suffered consecutive defeats and had started the match brightly with opener Irfan Ahmed making 30 from 35 deliveries before being clean bowled by Kamran Shazad.
In fact there were starts for all of the Hong Kong batsman, with the top eight all managing to reach double figures before losing their wicket.
It was Shazad and his namesake Mohammad doing the damage with the ball as both bowlers combined to claim seven wickets and help restrict Hong Kong to just 157 from 45.2 overs.
Once again Amjad Ali impressed at the top of the order for the UAE as he hit 39 from 64 balls, but the wickets tumbled at the other end with Faris falling for a duck; Khan for just two and Patil for five.
Shaiman Anwar and Ali managed to somewhat steady the ship as they took the score from 24-3 to 72-2 before Irfan Ahmed claimed the wicket of Anwar for 22.
The trio of Tanwir Afzal, Haseeb Amjad and Ahmed were doing the damage with the ball and after reducing the UAE to 122-8 they would have believed that a first win was on the way.
But a gritty knock of 37 not out from Ahmed and 16 from just 24 balls from Naveed was enough to see the UAE home with more than an over to spare.
Captain Khan’s side will be in action again on Monday when they play Malaysia, before ending the tournament against Oman.
UAE coach Aaqib Javed will ring the changes as his side look to register their first win of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) Premier League against Hong Kong.
Having lost to Nepal (by four wickets) and Afghanistan (by 70 runs), Javed admits his team have been disappointing in the 50-over competition – especially in the fielding department where they have dropped 10 catches in two matches.
“Against Hong Kong we will have to play to our potential and can definitely trouble them,” said the 41-year-old ahead of the match in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“I believe we can still improve but we have to be careful because we have to win three or four matches. We will make one or two changes for the game.”
Like the UAE, Hong Kong are winless in the six-team competition after defeats to Oman (by nine runs) and Afghanistan (by six wickets).
But Javed has acknowledged the threat posed by Hong Kong, who recently beat hosts Bangladesh at the World Twenty20 in March.
“Hong Kong are a decent team. Since the last six months they’ve been doing well,” he said. “They did well to qualify for the World Twenty20 and came third in the 50-over World Cup qualification in New Zealand.
"They have good players and skills wise they are very good. Irfan (Ahmed) is the kind of batsman who can excel well individually. They are a very good, balanced side so I think if we want to beat Hong Kong then we have to have a good day and have to bat well and improve our performances.”
Despite being critical of his team’s fielding, Javed is pleased with the batting line-up led by captain Khurram Khan.
“We have three good batsmen – Khurram (Khan), Swapnil (Patil) and Shaiman (Ali). In 50-over games, you have to have some good batsmen and I think we have a decent batting line-up for this competition."
If you’re disappointed there will be no top-class Twenty20 cricket in the UAE now that the Indian Premier League (IPL) is over, then you’re mistaken.
While the likes of Glenn Maxwell, David Miller and Dwayne Smith were smashing the boundaries, some of Pakistan’s former and current players as well as UAE domestic cricketers and Ryan Hinds of West Indies and Charles Coventry of Zimbabwe, have been playing in the Superstars T20 competition in Dubai.
Classed as the biggest domestic competition in the UAE, spectators can watch matches free of charge at the Fairground Oval situated in Dubai Academic City.
Now in its second edition, 16 franchises from UAE, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India are already halfway through the competition with the quarter-final knockout stages to begin from Saturday, May 10 with the final scheduled seven days later.
Matches are sometimes played daily or every two or three days, with weekday games beginning at 19:30, while the double-header on a weekends begins at 16:30.
With Pakistani players absent from the IPL, they have plied their trade in the Superstars competition – won by Wings Ahmedabad last year – which along with the upcoming domestic players in the UAE, has been a success so far.
“There are international Pakistani players here including Kamran Akmal (wicketkeeper) and Khurram Manzoor (Test opener) playing, Afghan players and UAE internationals,” says Rahul Dalwale, Superstars manager.
“At domestic level, there is some of the best talent that is emerging here, some very young players who have played at Under-19 and learning their trade in first-class games. If you are associated with the UAE domestic cricket and know some of the names, then they are playing in this T20 Superstars.”
And the matches are played at a venue that is easily assessible for the spectators, with plenty of space for children to play.
“At the Fairground Oval when people come to the venue, it’s a very English village-like setting. It’s a beautiful ground and although there are no custom-built stands, there’s a lot of grass area outside the boundaries where people can sit and children can play other sports,” says Dalwale.
“Overall the atmosphere is like an English county game and not like an international stadium like in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. There is ample parking, so that is not an issue. Plus, the spectators will have free access to the players (after the match) and some don’t mind opting to sign for autographs and pose for pictures.”
The matches so far have seen a “reasonable” attendance but Dalwale said there will be prizes available to win from quarter-finals onwards.
“The biggest challenge I faced on the UAE cricket circuit is to get the spectators to the ground. Thankfully, the people came in full force at last year’s final, and we had around 800 people watching the game. Because there are some Pakistani and Afghan players here we are expecting some big crowds who will be treated to some fantastic cricket.”
What: Superstars cricket T20
When: On-going until Saturday May 17 (fixtures on website and free admission).
Where: The Fairground Oval, Dubai Men’s College, Dubai Academic City