On May 28, 2017, Dougie Brown, the former Scotland and England international, was chosen by the Emirates Cricket Board as the man to transform UAE Cricket.
The first anniversary of his opening 12 months in the role of head coach on a permanent basis have flown by and he could not have wished for a better year in the hot-seat.
Stepping into the shoes of Aaqib Javed – a man who steered the UAE to the 2014 World Twenty20 and 2015 World Cup – was never going to be an easy task, but Brown’s full-time appointment was no real surprise after he did a good job to steady the ship and rebuild as interim coach from February 2017 until late May of the same year.
He quickly made himself a contender for the top job by leading the team to their first four-day match victory in three-and a-half years against Papua New Guinea, and an ODI series victory over the same nation.
And it was more of the same in his first assignment as coach of the side proper, with his men securing their first-ever away 50-over series win against the Netherlands while also retaining ODI status at the World Cup Qualifier.
That’s not to mention their first scalp over a Test nation – a three-run victory against southern African side Zimbabwe in March 2018 – which ended their qualification hopes to next year’s ICC Cricket World Cup.
Nothing was riding on that result for the UAE, given they were already out of contention to qualify for the 2019 showpiece in England and Wales, but they showed tremendous spirit and character all the same.
Indeed, that performance showcased the battling qualities and ultimately pride which Brown has instilled in the UAE set-up.
However, the 48-year-old is reluctant to shoulder all the credit when reflecting on his time in the job so far – and acknowledges that everybody has played an integral role in the UAE’s rise.
“When I took over, we were in a very precarious position and languishing for the previous 12 months. We weren’t where we wanted to be in four-day cricket and faced the real prospect of losing our ODI status. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but it would have had a huge impact on our funding at the ICC and even our own jobs,” he told Sport360 in an exclusive interview last week.
“It’s taken a big amount of work from everyone, particularly the players, but they have show immense dedication to raise their own performance levels and ultimately that helped us get through this tough period.”
To even reach the final World Cup qualifier, held in March of this year in Zimbabwe, the UAE had to come through qualifying matches in Namibia. A tournament victory was perhaps unexpected but the relief of securing their ODI standing was important.
Ultimately, the final hurdle was all too much for Brown’s men as the UAE finished bottom of the final six-team qualifying group, which saw West Indies and Afghanistan advance to the the main tournament.
“It was a difficult period for us,” the former Warwickshire all-rounder recalls.
“But, in some ways, it’s been a really exciting past year and it’s not always been for the right reasons. We had to do things the hard way to get to Zimbabwe and weren’t always on the front foot.
“Looking back, I’m really proud of what the team has achieved. Individually and collectively, I see ourselves in a really healthy position against the rest of the Associate members. I’m really impressed where we are and the work ethic we’ve seen in developing as a team.”
The 48-year-old added: “I’m really looking forward to the next 18 months and what they will bring, in many ways, the period coming up could be more exciting.”
Brown has given his charges a richly deserved five-week break following a hectic 2018 and his squad will report for training at the ICC Academy in Dubai Sports City after Ramadan.
Continuing their journey to reach the World Twenty20 in Australia, to be held in 2020, is another target on the horizon but their next assignment is a major one: the Asian Cup qualifiers in September.
Hong Kong, Malaysia, Nepal, Oman and Singapore stand in their way. Claim the only qualification spot and they will rub shoulders with the likes of Virat Kohli and Sarfraz Ahmed on their home turf when the Asian Cup is held in the UAE later that month.
Ahmed Raza, Rohan Mustafa and Mohammad Naveed are among the senior players who already know what it’s like to play to in such a high-profile tournament after being involved in the 2016 edition in Bangladesh.
Even for Brown, a man with international cricket experience as a player and a T20 Blast and One-Day Cup-winning coach with Warwickshire, the prospect of being in the dugout against Asia’s best could rank as one of his finest moments.
“The focus is very much on securing Asia Cup qualification. We hope we can do favourably in the pre-World Cup qualifiers and if we qualify for the competition, we’ll take on Pakistan and India in our own backyard which is something we’ll be working really hard for,” he added.
“It’s a huge regional tournament but it will be watched globally and the best players in the world will be in action. If we get to the Asian Cup, I think for me, it would be one of my proudest moments in cricket.
“We need to make sure our preparation is right and it would be enormous to go up against against teams of this magnitude in your own backyard. The venues in Dubai and Abu Dhabi will be packed to the rafters, it should be extraordinary. But, we just can’t expect to turn up and qualify, we have to go and put in hard work between now and then.”
With 25 wins in 39 matches in all competitions since July, the UAE is certainly showing form that made them one of the top teams at Associate level under Javed during his four-year stay.
On Friday, the UAE have been added to the ICC’s ODI rankings where they sit 14th, just a place behind Scotland.
While their recent achievements have put them back on the cricketing map after a decline following Javed’s departure, Brown wants his players to embrace the challenges and improve their all-round game – whether it’s on the training field or on the pitch.
“I’d like to think so (that they are on their way up to being one of the best Associate sides),” he said. “We still have a lot of work to do and by no means are we the finished article. We have got to make sure in the next 18 months to three years, we keep heading in a positive direction.
“I would say we are getting to the point whereby people are noticing our form, especially if they take in the rankings. We want to make sure the result against Zimbabwe isn’t a flash in the pan. We want to be playing and competing against the big boys on a regular basis so they can make a good account of themselves. With the ability that we have, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be doing that consistently.”
“My family and I have loved every minute of Dubai and love being part of this journey. At the same, there is a lot of unfinished business ahead and if we get the those small things right, there’s no reason on why we cannot build on what has been a remarkable journey so far.”
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