DUBAI // Aaqib Javed, the UAE coach, is hopeful his newly slimmed-down national team will get the rewards their hard work has merited by regaining their status as the leading Asian nation outside of the Test elite, at the ACC Elite Trophy next month.
Javed, the former Pakistan fast-bowler, made improving the fitness of the national team his main priority when he took over the role as the UAE head coach in March.
His first match in charge of the national team back then was memorable chiefly for the fact he left his players floundering in his wake while running laps of the ground.
The transformation has been stark since.
Ahead of the tournament, a 50 over competition for the best sides in Asia in the tier below Test cricket, Javed says most of his core squad have shed between five and 12 kilograms since he took over.
He hopes the hard work will bear fruit during an intensive period of matches, which start on October 3 and are being played at venues across the Emirates.
"Most of the competitions here are T20, other than one or two tournaments during the whole season," the coach said.
"I have emphasised [fitness] a lot in training. Before I joined they had no concept about that, but since then they have worked really hard.
"We weighed them when I arrived and then again a few days back, and there has been a huge improvement.
"When I first saw them some were bulky and overweight. Their average weight loss has been five to 12 kgs. The encouraging thing is they have worked really hard."
The national team have home advantage in a competition they have won more times than any other side, claiming four successive titles between 2000 and 2006.
That run of success cemented the UAE's position as the leading team on the continent, outside of the four Test playing nations from the subcontinent- India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh - but they have seen that standing diminished in recent years.
A fifth consecutive title was denied by Hong Kong in a rain-effected final in Malaysia in 2008, while Afghanistan confirmed their emergence as a leading cricket nation by claiming their first title in the tournament in two years ago.
"All teams participating in the event have shown tremendous improvement in their game and it would be interesting to see how they fare," said Ashraf-ul-Haq, the chief executive of the Asian Cricket Council.
The national team won the trophy the last time it was staged on these shores, in 2000.
Mazhar Khan, the tournament director, said: "The fact we are hosting the Elite Trophy after successfully staging the World Twenty20 qualifier in March amply reflects the bond we share with the cricket fraternity."
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