SHARJAH // The UAE made a faltering start in their bid to regain their status as the leading side in Asia below the Test sphere as they lost to Nepal by four wickets in their ACC Trophy match at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Wednesday.
A listless batting display undermined a performance which had touched on being heroic at times by certain members of the national team contingent.
Khurram Khan captained the side with typical poise, despite coming to the ground straight from an overnight flight from the US in his role with Emirates Airline cabin crew.
Given those circumstances, the tired shot to which the mainstay of the UAE batting line-up succumbed when set on 20 was forgivable, but it did seal the national team's demise as they were all out for 133 in 40.5 overs. And Manjula Guruge, the new left-arm seamer playing his first international on home soil, emerged with more points in the credit column than he did contents in his stomach.
The Sri Lankan-born bowler was severely debilitated by the heat to the point that he had to stop three times within the space of returning to his bowling mark at the end of his first spell. The heat was so severe it even accounted for an umpire, with AR Srinivasan having to go off after 36 overs of the UAE innings. And yet Guruge still soldiered on to return figures of three for 25 from eight overs.
"These are not easy conditions for fast bowlers to bowl more than three or four overs, but he bowled six on the trot and that told on the body," Khurram said. "He is fit and was bowling very well, but it is very hot and I think the conditions got to him. I told him it was better if he went off, but he said, 'No, let me finish this over'.
"It was good of him to carry on to try to bowl. In terms of the match, though, we didn't bat very well and the batsmen need to take on more responsibility [when they face Saudi Arabia in Abu Dhabi today]."
This tournament carries with it the incentive of a place in a new tournament planned for next year against the A teams of the four Asian Test nations, likely to be played in Singapore. The UAE used to take finishing in the top two at this tournament a given. They won the ACC Trophy four times in succession, and when that streak did eventually end, in the 2006 final against Hong Kong, they felt they had been undone by an untimely rain break.
The field have caught up on Asia's previously trailblazing side.
"Today was a test for our players, to see how we can do against sides like UAE, and we proved we can do it," said Pubudu Dissanayake, the Nepal coach. "There are still lots of areas for us to improve on going forwards, but these players have the ability to become a Division One team."
OMAN, AFGHANISTAN AND HONG KONG WIN
While players and officials were falling foul of the heat across the emirate at Sharjah Cricket Stadium, an Omani batsman in Al Dhaid said he was not even tired after making 199 against Bhutan.
Zeeshan Maqsood was, however, nursing a strained muscle in his leg last night, which he sustained while diving vainly to make his ground going for his 200th run.
Despite missing out on the double century, the Omani opener professed himself satisfied following his side’s colossal 312-run win.
And given that 126 of his runs had come in boundaries, he was not overly exhausted, either, ahead of the bigger tests to follow in the series.
“There was a mix-up which caused the run out, but these things happen in cricket,” said Maqsood, who shared in partnerships worth 131 for the first wicket and 101 for the second as Oman shone with the bat.
“It was my fortune that I made 199, and I’m not upset [to miss out on a double century] but happy I contributed these runs to the team.”
In the other match in Group A, the champions Afghanistan, fresh from playing at the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, beat Malaysia by 36 runs.
Hong Kong, the winners of the Trophy in 2006 when they beat the UAE in the final, signalled their intentions with a hefty 209-run win over Saudi Arabia in Group B.
Irfan Ahmed struck a brisk 60 for Hong Kong before his brother, Nadeem Ahmed, returned remarkable figures of four wickets for five runs in seven overs to rout Saudi.
RESULTS AND FIXTURES
Afghanistan beat Malaysia by 36 runs
Oman beat Bhutan by 312 runs
Nepal beat UAE by four wickets
Hong Kong beat Saudi Arabia by 209 runs
Afghanistan v Oman at Sharjah
Bhutan v Maldives at Global Cricket Academy, Dubai
Hong Kong v Kuwait, Zayed Cricket Stadium, Abu Dhabi
Saudi Arabia v UAE at Nursery Oval, Abu Dhabi
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