The UAE open their ICC World Cup Qualifier campaign on Sunday against Papua New Guinea. They are among 10 nations vying for the two berths for the 2019 World Cup with Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, West Indies, Netherlands, Ireland, Scotland, Hong Kong and Nepal also in action.
Here are the talking points as the UAE prepare for battle.
EXPERIENCED PLAYERS NEED TO STEP UP
Rohan Mustafa, Ahmed Raza, Mohammad Naveed, Shaiman Anwar and Chirag Suri – these are the players who were involved the last time the UAE played in a World Cup Qualifier in 2014. They reached their target in New Zealand, claiming the top two spots to book their place in the 2015 showpiece event. All four apart from Suri have regularly been involved in the national set-up since then and between them have more than 550 caps.
With the majority of the players experiencing their first World Cup Qualifier, it will be up to the quartet to step up and make their experience count.
The 32-run defeat to West Indies on Thursday was another instance where the UAE only had themselves to blame for their defeat. Set a target of 116, the batsmen struggled before being all out for 83 and that is no surprise.
In their eight previous matches, six half-centuries and a century has been scored with those coming from four players – Ghulam Shabbir (two fifties), Ashfaq Ahmed (one century and fifty), Rohan Mustafa (two fifties) and Rameez Shahzad (fifty). The batsmen have to raise their game and concentrate on building partnerships. Bowlers alone cannot win every game.
THE IMPORTANCE OF RETAINING ODI STATUS
It’s more than just a World Cup qualifying tournament where the top two sides will reach the 2019 showpiece event. While the likes of Ireland and West Indies are already assured of ODI status, that privilege is something that the UAE will be playing for this week.
Head coach Dougie Brown has revealed ODI status and retaining ICC funding is the primary objective and not qualification, considering they are massive underdogs to reach the World Cup. The task is straightforward. Finish as one of the top three sides between Nepal, Hong Kong, Scotland and Papua New Guinea, and ODI status until 2022 is sealed.
To have a realistic chance, qualification to the Super Six stage is essential. The UAE cricketers have seen the benefits of what ICC funding can do to an ODI nation with the launch of the first-ever professional contracts and the development of new programmes by the Emirates Cricket Board. If they cannot maintain their ODI status, if could have serious implications for not just the players but the ECB’s structure.
The UAE will not be stepping into unknown territory when they open their campaign. In their group, they have faced Ireland, West Indies, Netherlands and Papua New Guinea before with some good success. Last year, they completed a T20 series whitewash over Papua New Guinea while also defeating Netherlands 2-1 for their first 50-over series triumph on Dutch soil. Should they reach the Super Six stage, then the likes of Nepal and Scotland await – teams they have beaten before in the last 12 months.
With just two spots up for grabs, 10 nations including West Indies will fight it out to enter the ICC 2019 World Cup during the Qualifier that begins on Sunday in Zimbabwe.
Caribbean marauder Chris Gayle and Afghanistan star Rashid Khan might well be the high-profile names competing but there are other players who can make a big impact. We look at five players who can grab the headlines this month.
The left-handed top order batsman comes into the tournament with two fifties and a century in three domestic matches. Lewis is touted as the next Chris Gayle. The explosive batsman already has two ODI and as many T20 centuries under his belt from 39 matches. Likes to go for the big shots, as can be gauged by the fact he has hit 18 sixes in 25 ODIs.
MUJEEB UR RAHMAN
The teenager is a highly-rated spinner. Earlier last month in Sharjah against Zimbabwe, the Afghan spinner rewrote history by becoming the youngest player to take a five-for (5-50) in ODIs aged 16, beating Waqar Younis who did so aged 18. With a variation of leg-spin, googlies and off-spin, expect him to add to his 19 ODI wickets.
The Nepalese leg-spinner is only 17 but has already bagged an Indian Premier League and a Caribbean Premier League contract this year. Helped his team reach the Qualifier, finishing joint-top in the World Cricket League Division Two with 17 scalps. Lamichhane will need to replicate that form if Nepal want to reach the next level.
Anyone who watched the T10 League in Sharjah last December will know how effective he can be. In that tournament, the opener hit 44*, 66* and 52*, which earned the praise of his Kerala team-mate and Eoin Morgan. With a strike-rate of 90.87, six centuries and 15 fifties in ODIs, he can take bowlers apart.
Since making his ODI debut in January 2017, the spinner has become a key figure for the UAE. Haider has 17 wickets in eight ODIs so far and sent out a warning to the rest of the teams by finishing with figures of 4-16 against reigning World T20 champions West Indies in their 32-run defeat in a warm-up game.
UAE captain Rohan Mustafa has told his team-mates to enjoy playing in the ICC World Cup Qualifier, saying all the pressure is on the Test nations and not themselves.
The UAE open their campaign against Papua New Guinea at Zimbabwe’s Harare Sports Club on Sunday, knowing their chances of claiming one of the two spots for the 2019 showpiece event in England are very slim.
That’s because two-time winners and reigning World T20 champions West Indies and Afghanistan will be the two favourites in a 10-team competition that also consists of Ireland, Netherlands, hosts Zimbabwe, Nepal, Scotland and Hong Kong.
But while Mustafa admits nothing is impossible, he will tell his players to “enjoy every game that they play”.
“It’s a big tournament and it’s a good opportunity to make history of reaching the World Cup,” said the all-rounder, whose side were beaten by Nepal and West Indies in two warm-up matches last week.
“It’s a big opportunity but we know it will be difficult. I’ve told every player there is no need to take pressure, just enjoy every game that you play. The pressure will be on the Test nations and not on us.”
There is plenty at stake than just the qualification. The UAE must finish in the top three between Nepal, Scotland, Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea to maintain their ODI status and continue receiving ICC funding until 2022.
For head coach Dougie Brown, he admits his side will give it a real go in the competition but conceded retaining ODI status is a priority.
“Obviously, we come here as a lower-ranked side and it would be wrong of us to just say that we are going to qualify for the World Cup,” said the 48-year-old.
“There are four Test nations here, they are probably, and quite rightly, thinking they have World Cup qualification very much in their hands.
“But for us, retaining the ODI status is very important. In order to do that, we have to qualify for the Super Six. That said, there is a little bit of dream and all of us believe we might qualify for the World Cup.
“Obviously at this stage, a lot of cricket has to be played and we have to play exceptionally well, but we have seen so far in the warm-up games, everybody can beat everybody in this tournament and all we need to do is to get on the right side of good fortune, make sure the players are playing well, which they are, have the confidence and maybe create a little bit of momentum and who knows?”