UAE will be participating in the Emerging Teams Asia Cup, which will be held in Pakistan and Sri Lanka starting December 6.
Bangladesh, India, Afghanistan and Oman are the other teams that are participating in the tournament which is being organised by the Asian Cricket Council (ACC). India will be playing all its games in Sri Lanka.
For the UAE team members, who originally hail from Pakistan, it’s a momentous occasion as they prepare for their first match against Bangladesh in Karachi on December 6.
“The boys are excited. We are from Pakistan and playing in Pakistan will be great,” captain Mustafa told Sport360 on Sunday.
“We will be playing there after a long time. We will try our best to qualify for the semi-finals and travel to Sri Lanka. I have played in Karachi but that tour was almost eight years ago. It will be great playing for UAE in Karachi.”
The UAE team will travel to Pakistan on December 4 and have a practice session the next day before their opening match. UAE’s Indian origin batsman Chirag Suri won’t be travelling to Pakistan due to personal reasons. All-rounder Fahad Nawaz has been selected as his replacement.
Full member nations like India and Pakistan will be fielding mainly Under-23 players in the tournament while the UAE and Oman are sending their senior squads. Mustafa said he is looking forward to playing in front of his home crowd, and hopefully a few friends.
“I have a few friends in Karachi and they will come to watch us play. They played cricket in UAE with me and they have played first-class cricket in Karachi as well,” the 30-year-old said.
Meanwhile, Emirates Cricket Board spokesperson Zayed Abbas said the board is satisfied with the security arrangements in place in Pakistan.
International cricket had deserted the south Asian nation following the attack on Sri Lanka’s team bus in 2009. However the cricketing world is slowly returning to Pakistan, with Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and the West Indies among nations to visit the country in the last three years.
Abbas stated he has been to Pakistan himself twice in the last year and believes the country has done a lot in an effort to host international cricket again.
“Pakistan has been following strict security procedures. I have attended two events in Pakistan in the last year. I attended an ACC meeting. I also went there during a development committee meeting, which was held during the Pakistan-Sri Lanka T20 in last October,” Abbas said.
“The process of sending the team is the same. In this case also, the procedure has been the same as any other ACC or ICC event.”
It has been one year since the former India all-rounder set up the Robin Singh Sports Academy in Dubai. He is one of three prominent Indian names to set up a coaching base in the UAE alongside MS Dhoni and Ravi Ashwin. And the journey that has largely been fruitful is set to take a major leap forward.
Singh is pleased by the progress his academy has made in a year and has big plans for the future. That includes a comprehensive set-up at the Iranian Club, Oud Metha, in Dubai, special programmes for gifted cricketers and a state-of-the-art fitness regime.
“The progress has been very good. Right now we are in the process of making a (cricket) ground at the Iranian Club and we are also changing the lights there. We already have nets, we have natural wickets. That’s huge progress,” Singh, who is currently in the UAE as coach of the Norther Warriors in the T10 League, told Sport360.
Dedicated training programmes, heightened fitness awareness and a well-rounded approach towards a professional career in cricket are the focal points of Robin Singh’s academy. For that, Singh has planned fitness testing sessions with nanoM Sports and Human Performance Clinic. That is just one aspect of being a professional cricketer. The rest, as Singh says, is all down to hard work.
“Many people look to go out of Dubai. We want to get people back into Dubai. So much international cricket happens here, with the facilities you can accommodate that. Of course, you need exposure by going out and playing in other venues like England, India, Sri Lanka. Wherever I have connections, I am going to expose them to different environments.
“Not only that, we will have special camps, special programmes. I want to focus a lot on fitness. I have tied up with nanoM who do a lot of fitness testing. They have some of the best facilities across the globe. I want to get some of these boys in there to understand that we can do programmes that are set out for them for the next three to four years,” Singh stated.
“I want to make sure people understand that there is a pathway forward. There is enough exposure here for any young kid to make it to the next level on the international circuit. You don’t need to leave the UAE for anything. What is important is for kids to understand that there is no short cut.”
Singh knows the importance of having good education along with developing a cricketing career and has therefore teamed up with Manipal University in India. “I want to see how we can offer scholarships as well for some of these young kids if they are interested. So that they can continue their studies as well,” he added.
UAE’s next stars
Singh’s academy has already worked with some recognisable UAE names, showing his institution is on the right path when it comes to nurturing and polishing local talent and taking them to the next level.
“We have a few players in the UAE team. One of the players is Rahul Bhatia. We picked him as he is also playing for the UAE national team, so pretty much deserves selection. There is another boy named Ansh Tandon who has been part of the academy. These are a couple of players who in the past one year who have worked with us and grown leaps and bounds,” the 55-year-old said.
Last year, left-arm spinner Bhatia played a major role helping the UAE emerge as Asia U-19 Western Region champions in Malaysia.
UAE captain Rohan Mustafa expressed his anguish following the cancellation of the UAE T20x tournament that was expected to take cricket in the country to the next level.
The Emirates Cricket Board on Thursday announced that that failure to complete the sale of franchise rights within time meant it wasn’t possible to go ahead with the league that was supposed to start next month. Also, a potential cap on player participation in franchise tournaments from the ICC affected the commercial prospects of the tournament.
The UAE T20x was to be a great opportunity for UAE players to rub shoulders with international superstars like Kumar Sangakkara, Shahid Afridi, Eoin Morgan, David Miller and Andre Russell.
However, that won’t happen now and Mustafa expressed his disappointment at a lost opportunity for UAE cricket.
“Quite disappointing. There were some big names coming to play that tournament. It was a great effort to grow cricket in the UAE,” Mustafa told Sport360.
“The guys are disappointed. These kind of leagues give financial support as well. Every player wanted it. But you can’t do anything.”
Three UAE players were expected in each squad of the five-franchise tournament, which would have been a golden chance to not only gain precious exposure but also open the door to potential contracts in other tournaments where the international stars played. Mustafa lamented the missed opportunity to impress the star names who ply their trade in T20 leagues around the globe.
“When Brendon McCullum was asked ‘what is the difference between you (international stars) and associates’, he simply said ‘opportunity’. No one knows about us, how we play. But we are not too different from international players. Yes, we can’t reach the level of legends. If we perform in front of them, it opens doors for us.
“If a star player is my captain and I do well, it’s a great opportunity as he can recommend me in another league as well. That was a great opportunity for us to play with those who play in almost all leagues in the world.”
Next up for Mustafa is the upcoming T10 league – that starts on November 21 – in which he will turn out for Team Rajputs. But more importantly for him, the UAE team will travel to Pakistan to participate in the Emerging Teams Asia Cup starting December 6.
Mustafa said his focus is on the UAE team and performing well for the country, not worrying too much about franchise cricket.
“In December, we will be travelling to Pakistan for ACC Emerging Teams Asia Cup. If we qualify for semi-finals, we will be travelling from Pakistan to Sri Lanka for semis and final.
“T10 is starting next week. But we are concentrating on our national commitment. Country comes first, whether there is league cricket or not. I will be thinking more about Emerging Teams Asia Cup rather than T10 as I am the leader and I have to perform,” Mustafa said.
“We didn’t perform well in the Asia Cup qualifiers, that was sad for us. We will be facing teams like Hong Kong and our aim now is to do well there.”
Mustafa, and fellow UAE cricketer Mohammad Naveed, will then turn out in the Everest T20 League in Nepal – running from December 8 to 22 – having just completed a stint in the Pokhara Premier League in the same country.