Muhammad Waseem (c), Ethan D’Souza, Ali Naseer, Vriitya Aravind, Rameez Shahzad, Jawadullah, Asif Khan, Rohan Mustafa, Aayan Afzal Khan, Junaid Siddique, Zahoor Khan, Sanchit Sharma, Aryansh Sharma, Karthik Meiyappan, Basil Hameed
The Emiratis have been a cricketing enigma over the last couple of years, characterised by soaring highs and plunging lows in on-field performances as well as plenty of drama off the field. The demotion of captain Ahmed Raza by coach Robin Singh was unpopular and left a bad taste in the mouth for many fans. It even led to Raza’s subsequent retirement.
Then the coach himself was sacked shortly after, as a string of poor results (20 losses in 27 games) badly derailed UAE’s League 2 campaign and consigned them to the World Cup qualifier playoffs. Since then, a timely mini-revival, largely due to a massive uplift in batting performances, has saved UAE’s blushes with the team retaining their ODI status and also keeping their place in the next League 2 cycle.
This was followed by a strong campaign at the ACC Premier Men’s Cup, where they reached the final. Furthermore, in the recently concluded ODI series against West Indies, the Emiratis were competitive and largely gave a good account of themselves despite losing 3-0. So, they come to this qualifier with good form on their side.
If the batting unit has a nice day out, anything is possible, especially with a bowling line-up tailor made for the tired, spinner friendly Bulawayo pitches to restrict opponents and defend totals.
UAE’s batting resurgence has been led by the trio of captain Muhammad Waseem, Vriitya Aravind and Asif Khan, who collectively have scored the bulk of the runs for the national team in the last six months.
The 33-year-old Asif has been a man transformed, turning around his career in dramatic fashion from a mediocre, middle order plodder to a dynamic and dangerous hitter. The stats don’t lie; Asif now averages over 40 and strikes at over 84. Recently, he captured global media attention after scoring a whirlwind hundred against Nepal in just 41 balls; thereby setting a new record for the fastest ODI century by an Associate batter and the fourth fastest overall.
Similarly for Waseem, a breakthrough series of performances in the ILT20 franchise tournament has elevated his game to new heights. Despite only averaging 26 in ODIs, his ball striking ability (SR of 94 in ODIs and 144 in T20s) has made him a dangerous prospect for opposition bowlers at the top of the order. Fellow opener and wicket-keeper batter Aravind serves as the perfect foil. More a stylish accumulator of runs than an out and out dasher, Aravind has been UAE’s best batter through the League 2 cycle, notching up 1047 runs at an average of 32.71.
On the bowling front, the Emiratis possess arguably one of the finest fast bowling combos in Associate cricket in Junaid Siddique and Zahoor Khan. Both have shown incredible levels of consistency throughout League 2 and the World Cup Qualifier Playoff, picking up a sum total of 103 wickets at impressive averages and economy rates. They will once again form the backbone of the team’s pace attack. Veteran Rohan Mustafa and the youthful plus skilful duo of Karthik Meiyappan and Aayan Afzal Khan are the spin options.
Outside the core group, there are a plethora of new faces in the 15. Experienced players and 2022 T20 World Cup participants like CP Rizwan, Kashif Daud and Chirag Suri have all been notably omitted (alongside youngsters Aryan Lakra and Alishan Sharafu), to make way for young academy graduates and Under-19 cricketers Ethan D’Souza, Ali Naseer, Sanchit Sharma and Aryansh Sharma. The selection of these youngsters is a testament to UAE’s magnificent pathway system and their desire to blood youngsters early.
Nasser, in particular, was a revelation during the recent 3 match series against West Indies, scoring an impressive 128 runs at 42.66 with a strike rate of 107.56. The left handed middle order dasher possesses all the attacking shots in the book and can also bowl at 130 km/h+, providing the gulf nation with another genuine allrounder option. There’s also the fairytale story of 24-year-old Jawadullah, an immigrant electrician who has gone from playing tape ball cricket in his native Pakistan to now making the UAE squad at the qualifier.
UAE have drawn a tough group but are more than capable of springing a surprise or two, especially if the batting group can maintain its newfound consistency and attacking threat. To qualify for the Super Six, they must defeat fellow Gulf Nation Oman and pick up at least another win against either Scotland or Ireland. Whilst a 4th placed group finish seems like the most realistic outcome at this stage, the Emiratis possess the quality to reach the Super Six phase of the tournament again, as they did five years ago.
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