When the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) announced their squad for the Under-19 Western Region Asia Cup qualifiers three weeks ago, their chief selector Waleed Bukhatir made it clear that the UAE only had one target in mind when they reached Malaysia.
“Our coaching team has been very encouraged by the development and progress they have seen, and are confident this team will achieve our goal of winning the tournament, and participating in the Asia Cricket Council’s U19 Asia Cup,” he said at the time.
Fast forward to November and those words have been taken on board.
Having beaten Qatar, Oman and Bahrain, Tuesday’s convincing 194-run victory on the Duckworth-Lewis method over Kuwait booked their berth in the Asia Cup for the second time in their history following their participation in 2013-14 when the tournament was hosted in the UAE.
It means they will stay on in the Far East and look forward to testing themselves against the likes of Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
Captain Fahad Nawaz and his troops face a stern task of replicating their success on the biggest regional stage but the fact they have reached the main competition is thanks largely to not just the players but the ECB’s structure and preparation.
With cricket widely played across the country, there is no shortage of talent in the UAE. The ECB know that.
They only have to watch any academy or inter-school match and see for themselves the number of promising cricketers who could go on and don the national jersey one day.
At the end of the day, it is about identifying the best crop of players from an extensive pool, enhancing their skills and knowledge and getting them up to speed for upcoming international tournaments.
The ECB’s Inter-Emirate tournament has done that.
Introduced in 2015 at Under-19 and then U-16 level in March and April, budding cricketers now have a chance to break into the national team if they impress for their respective cricket councils – Ajman, Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi in the 50-over competition.
It’s an enormous task for the ECB, selecting the best possible options for a training camp and then the final squad. But even with the best batch at their disposal, it requires a lot of work off the field to produce the results at international level.
The ECB are fortunate to have the ICC Academy in Dubai and are making the most of this partnership to yield positive results.
With temperatures unforgiving during the summer, the indoor facilities meant the ECB began their training camp for shortlisted players way back in June.
It not only provided ample time to work on the players’ weaknesses but also saw the cricketers being put through their paces during gruelling fitness activities.
It was just a taster of what to expect for the boys.
The team only had a handful of warm-up games prior to their departure but the performances have been nothing but impressive.
Leg-spinner Rahul Bhatia has stolen the show by topping the charts with 18 wickets, while Nawaz and Krishna Lakhani have two half-centuries to their names.
The ECB have had to bide their time but yesterday’s qualification shows they are on the right track to becoming a competitive Associate nation at youth level.
The UAE can look forward to facing the likes Sri Lanka and Pakistan in the Under-19 Asia Cup this week after delivering when it really mattered to thrash Kuwait by 194 runs on the Duckworth-Lewis method in the Western Region final on Tuesday day.
With three consecutive victories under their belt, the UAE arguably faced their toughest test of the tournament against their Gulf neighbours, who also boasted a perfect record from their four games.
Both sides had to wait more than an hour due to rain at Malaysia’s Kinrara Oval but when play started, it proved to be a one-sided contest.
The UAE set an imposing total of 275-7 with skipper Fahad Nawaz (69), Aryan Lakra (51) and Krishna Lakhani (55) all reaching half-centuries.
That was too much for Kuwait, as Nawaz (3-14), Rahul Bhatia (3-19) and Muhammed Ali (3-19) ripped through the batting order as they were all out for 80 runs.
For the UAE, it will be the second time they will be competing in the Asia Cup following their 2013-2014 participation when they qualified as hosts.
They will now stay on in Malaysia ahead of their opening match against 2016 runners-up Sri Lanka on Friday.
They will also face Pakistan and Afghanistan with the top two sides advancing to the semi-finals.
For Lakra, who helped put on a 113-run stand for the opening wicket with Nawaz, could not hide his delight of helping the team reach the main competition.
“It really feels great to be part of the UAE team to have qualified for the Asia Cup,” he said. “I think this is the first time the UAE have qualified in an age-event and this victory shows it is a really good step for junior cricket to continue growing in the UAE.”
Lakra’s half-century was even more significant considering it was his first ever international fifty and was happy it came at this stage.
“I was really pleased with my half-century. It was my first half-century for the UAE at Under-19 and was really happy to get it.”
“This 50 would have to be at the top of all of them right now, scoring a half-century in the Asian Cup final qualifiers is a great feeling.”
Amjad Javed says it’s an “honour” to be playing alongside Shahid Afridi in next month’s T10 Cricket League and believes it is the perfect opportunity for UAE players to prove they’re worthy of playing in elite T20 competitions.
Javed, 37, was among the picks in Saturday’s draft, selected by Pakhtoon team, which will be led by Afridi for the inaugural edition at Sharjah Cricket Stadium between December 14-17.
It means Javed will be meeting Afridi for the third time in three years. The all-rounder was part of the UAE squad when in the 129-run loss to Pakistan at the 2015 World Cup, before falling to a seven-wicket defeat in the same fixture at last year’s Asia Cup.
But he is looking forward to sharing the same dressing room with the former Pakistan captain – a man he calls as his “T20 batting hero”.
“It will be an honour to play with him in the same team,” he said. “The fan following will be more of him than any of the other players. But it certainly gives us the advantage that the most popular cricketer in the T20 league is on the same side as me.
“It’s something that I’m looking forward to by playing under him. I feel lucky that he has taken me because I scored some runs and took some wickets when we played against Pakistan.”
Rubbing shoulders with the likes of Pakistan’s Fakhar Zaman and Umar Gul and other elite stars will be something new for Javed and the other UAE team-mates.
Rameez Shahzad, Mohammad Naveed (Bengal Tigers), Shareef Asadullah, Ghulam Shabbir (Punjabi Legends), Rohan Mustafa, Imran Haider (Kerala Kings), and Saqlain Haider (Pakthoon) will also be in action over the four days.
In the past, the UAE internationals have been overlooked for T20 elite competitions apart from Chirag Suri’s selection for the Gujarat Lions at this year’s IPL.
But Javed feels the T10 Cricket League could be just the event to press their case and show their potential worldwide.
“It will give us the chance to show how good we are and hopefully go and play in one of the big T20 leagues.”