Only one berth was available for the main stage which takes place in Dubai and Abu Dhabi from September 15, and, for the second time in five days, Hong Kong triumphed against the UAE when they chased 176 in a rain-hit game in Kuala Lumpur.
With the tournament done and dusted, here are the takeaways from UAE’s participation in Malaysia.
NO NEED TO PANIC
Despite not achieving their objective of qualification, the national team shouldn’t be majorly worried. On paper, the UAE were strong favourites to reach the main competition given they were the highest-ranked nation in the six-team tournament. But as the results have shown in the last 11 days, it’s about how the team plays on that day. Four wins in six games (including topping the group standings) as well as scoring more than 1,000 runs scored is just one positive the UAE can take from Kuala Lumpur, while more importantly, there’s still a lot of quality at Brown’s disposal.
The former Warwickshire coach lauded his players’ efforts throughout the tournament for the way they played and rightly so. It’s unclear when the players will be donning the national colours again but whether that is later this year or in 2019, expect the players to bounce back.
Sadly this tournament comes to an end for us. We fought our level best but few things turned against us.— Rohan Mustafa (@rohanmustafa88) September 6, 2018
I would like to thank each and everyone of you for supporting us throughout our Asia Cup Qualifiers journey.
congratulations to Hong Kong team for the way they played👍
AHMED RAZA, CHIRAG SURI AND ASHFAQ AHMED SHINE
Having made his international debut way back in April 2006 as a 17-year-old, Ahmed Raza is still going strong and more importantly still producing the goods. The left-arm spinner is one of the most experienced members in the squad alongside captain Rohan Mustafa, pacer Mohammad Naveed and batsman Shaiman Anwar. Rested for the pre-Asia World Twenty20 Qualifiers in April, his displays in Malaysia were evidence of how valuable he is. In the six games he played, he finished as the highest wicket-taker with 16 scalps while going at just 3.86 runs per over. It wasn’t enough to help the UAE reach the Asia Cup but his efforts saw him named Man of the Series.
At the crease, openers Chirag Suri (224) and Ashfaq Ahmed (220) let the bat do the talking as they finished in the top-two run-scorers of the competition. Suri, who broke into the senior team last year, could not have asked for a better start when he scored his maiden century for the senior side – hitting 111 against Singapore before following it up with a 65 against against Nepal. Runs were hard to come by for the remainder of the tournament but the 23-year-old’s 220-run tally shows why he is highly rated.
Another person who continues to impress is Ahmed. He’s barely been in the set-up after making his debut in December 2017 but in the eight months, a string of strong displays has cemented his spot at the top-order. After hitting a half-century against Singapore, Ahmed flourished the final – smashing 79 runs from 51 deliveries which gave the UAE a fighting chance. He already has two fifties in his nine ODIs but given his form, it’s only a matter of time before he reaches triple figures.
ABILITY TO PLAY UNDER PRESSURE
The UAE are no strangers when it comes to pressure. In February, at the World Cricket League Champions Division Two, they defeated hosts Namibia and Oman in must-win matches to keep their hopes of securing ODI status alive before retaining it until 2022 during the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe a month later.
In Malaysia, Brown’s side found themselves in the same position. Their 182-run loss to Hong Kong meant defeat was not an option when they faced Malaysia and Oman to keep their hopes of finishing in the top-two in the table. They did exactly that – firstly beating Malaysia before overcoming an Oman side in a must-win clash in their final group game to book their place in the final.
Although the UAE couldn’t complete the job against Hong Kong in the final (losing with three balls to spare), Mustafa and Co have proved again they have the mindset to deal with such pressure in match situations.
With the group stage of the Asia Cup Qualifier over, group winners UAE and runners-up Hong Kong clash in the final on Thursday in Kuala Lumpur.
We look at the key talking points ahead of the crucial clash at Bandar Kinrara ground.
IT’S MORE THAN JUST A TROPHY
Just like any other final, the winners will get their hands on silverware but that sits a distant second on the list. Instead both sides have their sights on the bigger prize – qualification to the Asia Cup. It’s what they have been playing for over the last 10 days and with only one place available for the showpiece event which begins in the UAE on September 15, there’s plenty at stake. Whoever prevails on Thursday will take on Asia’s heavyweights Pakistan and India in Dubai on September 16 and 18 respectively.
The UAE will be aiming to make it successive qualifications to the Asia Cup and their fourth overall. Two years ago, they beat Hong Kong, Oman and Afghanistan in the 2016 edition in Bangladesh.
Hong Kong will be eyeing their third entry after featuring in the 2004 and 2008 editions.
MIDDLE-ORDER BATSMEN NEED TO STEP UP
Despite reaching the final with four wins out of five, the UAE’s middle order batsmen have yet to play to their potential. Rameez Shahzad, Shaiman Anwar and Mohammad Usman have become key batsmen for their country but struggled in Malaysia. Although veteran batsman Anwar has a half-century to his name, he has only managed single digits in his other three knocks, while Shahzad’s and Usman’s highest scores are 35 and 19 respectively.
It looks like it is only a blip because between them, the trio have amassed more than 2,000 runs in ODI cricket. UAE head coach Dougie Brown said every player will need to step up if they want to beat Hong Kong and it won’t be surprising if Usman, Shahzad and Anwar piled on the runs on Thursday.
“We need everybody to step up,” the 48-year-old said. “When we play our best cricket, we know how strong our middle-order batsmen we have. The likes of Rameez, Shaiman and Usman are world-class players on their day and we haven’t seen the best of them in this tournament. We want everyone to perform but sometimes that won’t happen. Who knows, all three of these players would love to be in front of the cameras and it’s a great opportunity to show what they’re capable of.”
CHANCE FOR REVENGE
The last time the two sides met was on September 1 when Hong Kong triumphed by 182 runs in the group stage. In the last five 50-over meetings since 2014, Hong Kong lead the head-to-head 3-2 with UAE’s last win coming in January 2017 after back-to-back defeats in November 2015. Although Brown admitted revenge will not be on their minds, the UAE know defeat is not an option.
The two nations meet in the Qualifier final at Kuala Lumpur’s Kinrara Oval (05:30am UAE start) where the winners can look forward to joining India and Pakistan in Group A of the showpiece event later this month.
It will be their second meeting in four days after Hong Kong triumphed by a convincing 182 runs on Saturday but Brown says his team is not seeking revenge.
“Tomorrow isn’t about revenge,” the 48-year-old said, whose side finished top of the six-team standings with eight points.
“We are facing a dangerous team and we know how well they played in the group stage. We know what is at stake tomorrow. If we get that right then we face the two biggest games that the UAE will play and more significantly in our own backyard.”
Hong Kong, who finished runners-up in the standings, are the only side the UAE failed to beat in the tournament which featured Nepal, Singapore, Oman and Malaysia.
Brown is wary of the threat posed by Hong Kong but knows if every UAE team members plays to potential, they will be hard to beat.
“Everyone knows what we’re playing for and we have to understand what we need to do as individuals,” he added. “If each person gets their own individual game right and have the right attitude that we showed throughout the whole tournament, then result should look after itself. There is a lot of cricket to be played until the end of the game.”