The UAE have served notice to India that they will be no pushovers in Friday's semi-final of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) Emerging Teams Cup after booking their place in the last four with a 59-run win over Bangladesh's Under 23 side on Thursday in Singapore.
Needing a win in their final group game to reach the semis, the UAE beat a team from a Test-playing nation for the first time in nearly two decades to make the grade, with Shaiman Anwar, Nasir Aziz and captain Ahmed Raza playing stellar roles.
Anwar (100) struck his second century in three games, scripting his innings alongside seven different partners to help the UAE post 202 for eight.
The spin duo of Aziz and Raza then nailed the Tigers with eight wickets between them – six of them coming through a spectacular Bangladesh collapse when they lost seven wickets for a mere 10 runs inside six overs.
"It is a dream come true," said an ecstatic Mazhar Khan, an Emirates Cricket Board official who is in Singapore with the team. "We were really hoping and waiting to see this day. It's been a long time.
"Compliments to our coach and the players. They were totally focused and very confident. They knew they could do it. I think we are proving a point – that we are there to play good cricket and do well. Now we play India. We will do our best and hopefully give them a good game, too."
Raza and Nasir Aziz were similarly optimistic about their chances against India U23s, who crashed to a 28-run defeat in their final group game against Afghanistan on Thursday, unable to chase 185 for a win.
"The positive thing for us is India lost to Afghanistan," said Raza, who took three for 22 against Bangladesh and also helped add 64 runs in a sixth-wicket partnership with Shaiman. "They will know we beat Bangladesh and we had a really good game against Sri Lanka. So we will not be pushovers and they will be under pressure not to lose to the UAE.
"They are cricketers like us, so we're not too worried," said Aziz, who was man of the match on Thursday for his five for 17 from seven overs. "The team that plays better will win and we will do our best to make sure we are that team."
To beat India, the UAE will need their three top performers to be on song again. Shaiman currently leads the batting charts for the tournament with scores of 119, 53 and 100, while Nasir is at the top of the wicket-taker's list with 12 victims.
"It's a really a matter of great pride for us that both the leading run-scorer of this tournament till now and the leading wicket-taker are from the UAE," Raza said.
"Anything he [Shaiman] is touching these days, it is turning to gold. Hopefully, he carries on like this for the next game as well. The batting conditions were not easy, but he batted virtually throughout the innings, till the 48th over. So hats off to him."
Shaiman was delighted to be at the top of the batting leaderboard, having scored almost half of UAE's 571 runs in the tournament. Now, he is hoping more UAE batsmen step up and come to the party.
"I am really glad I have been able to contribute to the team's success," he said. "But I was just talking to the other players and telling them that they need to support us, make some runs.
"Wickets kept falling at the other end [in Thursday's match]. Every time it looked like we were building a partnership, the other batsman would get out. But it was a do-or-die match for us and I was determined to stay there and carry the innings."
The UAE's fortunes will also depend on how Raza and Nasir bowl in tandem.
"We always enjoy bowling together," Raza said. "Like we need partnerships in batting, you need partnerships in bowling as well. When you put pressure from both ends, then it gets really difficult for the batting sides. So it is always great to bowl with Nasir.
"He is a wicket-taker, so I try to contain from one end and he attacks from the other."
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