DUBAI // It is difficult to know which is the master and which the apprentice.
But Kabir Khan and Aaqib Javed will certainly have a few personal scores riding on the outcome when they send their respective sides out against each other at Dubai Sports City tomorrow.
Kabir's Afghanistan side will have to counter the challenge of the side he formerly coached, the UAE, who are now led by Aaqib, in the ACC Trophy semi-final tomorrow.
The two heavyweight nations of this strata of cricket in Asia have been closely intertwined in recent times – not least because Kabir has coached each side twice in the space of five years. When he left the UAE earlier this year for a second time to return to Afghanistan, to helm their World Twenty20 campaign, he recommended Aaqib should apply for the role he had vacated.
He left his Pakistani compatriot with a team in good health. The UAE are unique in this tier of the game in that they have a winning recent record against an Afghanistan side who have otherwise swept all before them.
Last year, the national team had the better of a draw in a four-day match between the two sides.
They then beat the Afghans twice in the World Cup qualifying league, in the 50-over format in which they will be playing tomorrow, in matches in Sharjah that were nominally away matches for the UAE. When Kabir subsequently left, he expressed concern that all the good work he did while he was in the Emirates may now unravel.
He even said he was keen to help his successor.
"I would offer my services to give the new coach my knowledge on all the players and conditions they will face here so they can get up to speed quicker," he said back in January. He may want to revisit that view tomorrow.
Kabir's side are currently re-evaluating how best to progress, following their unfulfilled appearance at the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka at the end of last month.
Aaqib, too, is still feeling his way in his new role, having endured a testing tour of the Netherlands during the summer, and surprisingly lost the opening game of this tournament to Nepal.
The former Pakistan fast bowler acknowledges he has still yet to see the best of his new side.
"It is against my nature to absorb anything negative," Aaqib said this week.
"If you have something negative to say keep your mouth shut, or say something positive instead.
"It will take some time to understand their [his players'] nature and I don't think I have seen their full potential. Their best has still to come."
The national team had hoped they would avoid Afghanistan, the defending champions, at this stage of the competition on account of having a superior net run rate to Nepal.
However, having analysed the small print of the tournament rules, the head to head result between sides finishing with the same points was decisive.
Aaqib is impressed with the way his players bounced back from the opening day defeat.
"We believe in the abilities of the players," he said. "I never believe in smashing the players. I think you need to motivate them, remind them how good they are and just support them.
"We are a part of it whether they win or lose.
"I don't want to be like a headmaster, who is like another party separate when they lose.
"When we lose, 17 people lose, and we all feel bad together. We get two feelings from that. One, depressing and the other, angry.
"Once you are angry you always bounce back. I am happy the way they have bounced back."
Meanwhile, after navigating the fog of confusion which so often follows the final qualifying stages of international cricket tournaments, Nepal have been pitched into a semi-final against Malaysia in Abu Dhabi tomorrow.
The Nepalese knew victory against a youthful Hong Kong side at the Global Cricket Academy in Dubai today would guarantee them a place in the last four.
However, they were still under the impression they had to better the net run rate of the UAE, who were already through from Group B, to finish first and thus avoid the favourites Afghanistan.
After duly thrashing Hong Kong, the 2008 trophy winners by 125 runs, they were still unaware their opening day win against the UAE was enough to grant them the more appealing semi-final anyway.
With an in-form captain, a thriving fielding unit, as well the likelihood of some strong backing from their Dubai-based supporters, Nepal look well set to advance to a second successive trophy final.
“As a player, it is a privilege to represent your country and when you get there it is your responsibility to perform,” said Paras Khadka, the captain who scored a half-century and took two wickets today.
“All the players are putting their hand up when they are called on to perform.
“It is a matter of focusing on your basics, getting them right and the way we are playing at the moment is what we want to do to move forward.”
While the inexperienced Malaysian side may be unfancied to progress tomorrow, they do have some intimate insider knowledge of the Nepalese side.
Roy Dias, the former Sri Lanka Test player, oversaw the development of many of their players as the long-serving coach of Nepal and is now in charge of Malaysia.
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