The road to November’s Women’s World Twenty20 in the West Indies reaches the final stage with the UAE among eight sides battling it out for the two remaining berths over the next seven days.
The UAE begin their campaign against hosts Netherlands on Saturday in what will be their only second ICC tournament since the women’s team was formed in 2007.
Here, we look at the talking points ahead of their participation.
A CHANCE TO MAKE THE WORLD TAKE NOTICE
With Twenty20 Asian champions Bangladesh, Netherlands, Scotland, Ireland, Uganda, Thailand and Papua New Guinea making up the field, the UAE face an uphill task of qualifying but the fact that some teams know little about them could well work in their favour.
The UAE have never played outside Asian or the Middle East regions but in their 11 years, they have made gigantic strides from winning back-to-back Gulf titles to reaching this final qualifying stage of a ICC global tournament.
It will be the first time they will play against European sides and even Bangladesh and although it will be their most difficult challenge so far, Thursday’s 29-run warm-up victory over Uganda shows UAE are not just there to make up the numbers. Few more positive results will certainly put themselves on the cricketing map.
BLEND OF YOUTH AND EXPERIENCE
Coach Murali Sockalingam can count on a squad where most of the players are not short of international experience. Five of the starting 11 that faced Uganda were aged 30 and above but that’s not to say their youngsters are lacking in experience. Captain Humaira Tasneem is 23 but has been a regular member of the squad ever since making her debut more than five years ago. Esha Oza (19), Kavisha Kumari (15) and Udeni Dona (25) are just some of the young stars who are proving that age is just a number.
While the form of all-rounder Nisha Ali, who topped the batting charts in the Asian qualifiers, will be crucial, the addition of former Sri Lankan international Chamani Senevirathne will boost their aspirations. The 39-year-old featured in all formats for Sri Lanka and her half-century against Uganda, showed she still has what it takes to cause problems.
The UAE have been training for this moment for the last six months and prior to their departure, played Ramadan tournaments as well as a specially-arranged series against a women’s team from Sri Lanka.
The real tests start now but the win against Uganda is the perfect sign that they are mentally and physically ready to make their World Twenty20 dream a reality.
The UAE will go into their Women’s World Twenty20 opener against the Netherlands in buoyant mood after they defeated Uganda by 29 runs in Thursday’s warm-up game.
A week after arriving in Amsterdam, the UAE played their only practice game against Uganda in what will give them a lot of confidence ahead of Saturday’s clash against the Dutch.
At Voorburg, former Sri Lankan international Chamani Seneviratna showed why she will be a vital player for the UAE when the 39-year-old scored 55 runs.
Her knock came from 45 deliveries including five boundaries and a six, which was integral as the UAE set a competitive total of 128-5. Esha Oza and Udeni Dona also contributed with 27 and 32 runs respectively.
In reply, Uganda reached 99-7 with Kavisha Kumari the pick of the bowlers with 2-16. Captain Humaira Tasneem, Heena Hotchandani, Subha Srinivasan and Seneviratna also took one scalp each.
The UAE will now take on Netherlands after being drawn alongside the Dutch, Papua New Guinea and Asian T20 champions Bangladesh.
Ireland, Scotland, Uganda and Thailand make up the eight-team tournament with two nations qualifying to the 2018 World Twenty20 in the West Indies.
Young pacer Yodhin Punja, who last featured for the UAE two years ago, will fly to Dubai and train with the senior national team over the summer in his bid of resurrecting his international career.
Punja, 19, made his senior debut in the four-day ICC Intercontinental Cup defeat to Hong Kong in November 2015, but the last of his three appearances came against Scotland in August 2016.
In that summer, he moved to England after being awarded a cricket scholarship at Claremont High School, but since that move Punja has only featured for the Under-19 squad with his last appearance coming in October 2016.
Due to his age, he’s ineligible to play for the youth team again and despite being based more than 3,000 miles away in England, Punja is keen to add to his senior caps.
He will fly to the UAE next month where he will train daily with the senior players from the middle of July until September after being in contact with head coach Dougie Brown.
“Dougie called me about two months ago and we had a conversation on the possibility of playing for the UAE and that was a big positive for me,” said Punja, who became the youngest UAE international, aged 16, to play first-class and ODI cricket.
“I have been in touch with them over the past three months about my progress and am looking forward to going back and getting back into the whole setup,” added the pacer, who has played club cricket in England.
Although it will be just training, Punja wants to use this opportunity to send another reminder of his potential and hopefully earn a recall to the senior team.
“To hear from Dougie Brown, who is the head coach is very encouraging and gives me hope of the possibility of me of playing for the UAE one day even though I’m based in the UK,” he added.
“This for me is an opportunity for the players and coaches to say ‘wow we could really do with someone like this in our team’. That is what I’m trying to get out of them. I have been working really hard and it’s been a long time since people in the UAE have seen me bowl. I just want to make sure they see the improvement I’ve made and impressed with it. For me, I want it to be a good development phase for me.”