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.