The UAE have already begun preparations for this year’s Under-19 Asia Cup with aspiring cricketers looking to press their case for selection over the summer.
Up to 25 players have been put through their paces since June after being selected by the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) following their impressive performances during the domestic season.
They will be aiming to be rewarded with a place in the final squad for October’s Asia Cup where hosts Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Nepal and Afghanistan make up the eight sides in the tournament.
With stern competition expected in Dhaka, the boys have been training every week at the ICC Academy with the ECB keen to give them the best preparation. It also provides an opportunity for the governing body to analyse performances before choosing their squad for the upcoming tournament.
ECB national development manager Andy Russell admits it was difficult to decide on a shortlist for the final stage of the selection process from a pool of more than 100 players.
“We are in a fortunate position of having a lot of young players coming through,” said Russell, the ECB’s national development manager.
“To identify the best is always difficult and there will be a group of players who will be disappointed not to be there (when the squad is announced). It was a difficult process but we have based it on the season-long performances.
“What was taken into account predominantly was the six-month academy league that we run – and the UAE Cricket League that we host. This training camp is the real block of training that we will give where the selectors will look to identify the best for the Asia Cup.”
The ECB have rolled out the same plans for their Under-16s although no international tournament has been scheduled.
“The Under-16s have been training every week since June but although we are still waiting on whether there will be any competition for them, it’s a great way for them to enhance their game and knowledge,” added Russell.
UAE women’s international Esha Oza says she has improved the mental side of her game after playing against England’s KIA Super League clubs last month in the UK.
Oza, 20, was part of the ICC Global Development Squad that travelled to England in July after being recommended by the Emirates Cricket Board for her outstanding domestic season.
The team, which consisted of players from Ireland, the Netherlands, PNG, Uganda and Scotland had a strong tour where they beat Surrey Stars twice (seven wickets and two runs) as well as Western Storm by five wickets. Their only loss came against Loughborough Lightning.
Although she didn’t bat as much as she would have liked to, Oza was effective with the ball, taking three wickets, including that of South African stars Lizelle Lee and Dane Van Niekerk.
“I didn’t bat as much as I would have liked but I scored an unbeaten 20 against Loughborough and hit the winning runs against Western Storms. Yet, batting against international stars and bowling to them is something I never imagined before,” she said.
“It was a really good experience and being on the same field was a fantastic feeling.”
She added: “The mentality of my game has improved a lot now and I know understand the importance of planning. We were told to plan out our innings and break the game in parts and play according to the situation. This really helped me understand how to play in different situations and how differently you have to play against different opposition.”
As well as the matches, the squad also undertook a biomechanics testing session at the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) national performance centre and was mentored by former England women’s coach Mark Lane.
The initiative is a partnership between the ICC and the ECB, who hope it can provide exposure to teams outside the top-eight ranked sides who feature in the ICC Women’s Championship in their bid to make the World Twenty20Is more competitive in the coming years.
And Oza, who was the only UAE player in the squad, hopes this programme can be held regularly so that her other team-mates can improve their game just like how she did.
“Yes, I hope this can be done on a regular basis by the ICC,” she said. “It’s a great boost for the women’s game and opportunities like these will only take the game higher and higher.”
The UAE will take on Singapore in their opening clash of the Asia Cup Qualifier next month as they bid to reach the main event on home soil.
Dougie Brown’s side is one of six teams vying in the league format tournament in Malaysia for the lone qualification berth for September’s showpiece event in the UAE.
The UAE open their campaign against the minnows at the UKM Oval on Wednesday, August 29 before facing their toughest test on paper against Nepal a day later. They will then face Hong Kong on Saturday, September 1 before playing Malaysia and Oman in their final two league games.
Should the UAE finish in the top-two of the league stage, they will then play in the final on September 6 where a place for the Asia Cup is up for grabs.
If they do prevail, then the national team will be drawn in the same group alongside India and Pakistan in the main 50-over tournament which will be held between September 15 to 28.
The UAE will be aiming to make it successive qualifications to the Asia Cup after stunning Afghanistan, Hong Kong and Oman to earn their place in the 2016 edition in Bangladesh. Although they lost all their games in the group stage exit, they won many plaudits for the way they played against Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India.