DUBAI// There is only one UAE national in the 15-strong cricket squad who will play in the ICC World Cup Qualifier tournament next month, but team captain, Khurram Khan, is adamant that Emiratis must be selected on merit and not just to make up numbers. Khurram, 38, and from Pakistan, said a school grassroots programme was helping promote cricket among UAE nationals but he added the sport loses out to football in the hearts of Emiratis.
Gearing up for Tuesday's opener of the Emirates Airline Pro ARCH Trophy when, as part of Fly Emirates team, he will face the might of English counties Sussex, Essex, Middlesex, Surrey, Lancashire and Yorkshire, Khurram yesterday said UAE cricket was moving in the right direction. "For this World Cup qualification campaign we have one Emirati -the fast bowler, Fahad al Hashmi," said the left-handed batsman and left-arm spinner.
"For the last few years there have been two or three nationals on the squad but they had other commitments and couldn't make it." Khurram, one of eight current UAE players to have gone to the 2008 Asia Cup, agreed more Emiratis should be enticed to the team but he said all players must be there on merit. "The talent is definitely there among Emiratis," he said. "Some of the guys have been attending nets regularly and I think that is a good sign, but I'm not in favour of just offering them to come and play just to have Emiratis on the team.
"If they want to be in the UAE team they have to compete and they have to work hard and earn their place. These guys have great talent and there are some young, keen players, but they need to work on conditioning and prove they are the right standard." High-profile cricket games held in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah - and in the future at Dubai Sports City - raised the profile of the sport in the country and Khurram hoped a stronger cricketing tradition could be developed as a result.
"Getting kids interested is definitely the key," he said. "Right now the love of the game is not there, like compared to, say, football. But cricket is getting there with development programmes in schools - we are progressing. "There is team in the domestic league made up of UAE nationals and these guys, considering they are new to the game, are very good and show a lot of interest: that's encouraging."
Khurram will head to South Africa with his team for the all-important World Cup qualifier group games against Afghanistan, Denmark, Kenya, Netherlands and Bermuda following the Pro ARCH tournament. "The Pro ARCH is going to be important as the Fly Emirates team fields UAE players," he said. "It's great to play against the big names. "Members of the UAE team all have full-time jobs so to get good practice in is essential."