SHARJAH // Rarely do the organisers of cricket matches in the UAE have to concern themselves with weather forecasts.
When the 2011 Test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka was briefly delayed by rain, it was the only occasion in 205 international matches in Sharjah that time was lost to anything but sandstorms.
If rain returns to the UAE as forecast this afternoon, it will be a most unwelcome guest at the cricket. Forget the fact that inclement weather could wreck the logistics of the tournament and skew the points table.
The ICC had been planning for the biggest party of the competition, with thousands expected to attend the showpiece pool fixture between Nepal and Afghanistan at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium.
The ground administrators are estimating that 6,000 fans will attend, while tournament organisers are hoping for a few more than that.
The two nations may be relative newcomers to cricket, but the sport enjoys unparalleled popularity in both countries.
Afghanistan’s rise from refugee camps to cricket’s top table has been an enduring fairy-tale of the sport for some time.
Nepal’s ascent has not been quite as sharp over the past decade, but Paras Khadka, their captain, says his players feel they need to succeed for the sake of their public.
“Every time we come here it is like playing in our home country itself,” Khadka said.
“I think as a country we need to do well in cricket. We want to do it for the fans, for the people and for ourselves as well.
“It is a dream for us to go to a World Cup. The opportunity is there and we will try to make the best use of it.”
Part of the reason cricket has caught on in the rival Asian nations is the fact that they each have national teams in which the public can believe.
Afghanistan have played at two World Twenty20s so far, in the Caribbean and Sri Lanka, and have already secured their passage to a debut appearance at the 50-over version of the World Cup in 2015.
Nepal are now beginning to make good on their promise at the senior level, after years of excelling in age-group cricket within Asia.
“Crowds want to see winners,” said Tim Anderson, the ICC global development manager.
“Afghanistan have been extremely competitive, more so over the past couple of years.
“Nepal have struggled with their senior side for a little while, but they are starting to hit their straps now and they have huge crowd support.”
Neither side will be cowed by the pressure of the inflated Friday afternoon crowd.
If 8,000 do turn up, it will still represent fewer fans than the teams are used to seeing back home. “The players are used to it and they enjoy it,” said Pubudu Dassanayake, the Sri Lankan coach in charge of Nepal. “Wherever we go, the fans are behind us. Most of them are working here but they take time off to come and support us and see the matches and that is really great.
“We feel we are up there, but every day is a new game and you have to start from the beginning and do the little things right. I’m confident we are on the right track.”
Mohammed Shahzad, Afghanistan’s entertaining opener, said: “When Nepal and Afghanistan are together, there is always a big crowd, so it is a good match to have on a Friday.
“I love it when crowds come. The Afghans support us all the time in Sharjah and we are looking forward to playing Nepal there as so many people will come to watch us.”
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