SHARJAH // The UAE's World Cup qualifying hopes have been dealt a blow with news that Saqib Ali, one of the country's leading batsmen, could be facing months on the sidelines with a back injury.
The Abu Dhabi-based player was a notable absentee when the UAE squad was announced on Friday for the must-win World Cup qualifying matches against Ireland in Sharjah on March 18 and 20.
Saqib has been diagnosed with a bulging disk in his lower back and is currently back in his native Pakistan assessing whether surgery will be necessary. "He is consulting with doctors in Pakistan and we are waiting to get the final report from them, but it is likely he will be out for a minimum of two to three months," said Chitrala Sudhaker, the UAE team's physiotherapist.
Ireland, who currently top the World Cricket League table, are well aware of Saqib's merits.
The Multan-born batsman scored 195 in a losing cause against the Irish for the UAE in 2008.
Despite the loss of one of the team's most prolific senior batsmen, Aaqib Javed, the perennially upbeat coach, is still optimistic over his side's chances.
He pointed at the depth of talented spinners - with Nasir Aziz the potential trump card in an 14-man squad that includes as many as seven spin-bowlers - as a reason to think the hosts can trouble the leading side at this level of the game.
"Now I am excited because I have a good bunch of talented players," said Aaqib, the former Pakistan pace-bowler.
"I am never afraid of results, so long as I see a good fight. I can see this UAE team doing better than before because they are fit and they have been working hard."
UAE v Ireland, March 12-15
World Cricket League Championship
UAE v Ireland, March 18 and 20
THE UAE SQUAD
Khurram Khan (captain), Nasir Aziz, Ahmed Raza, Abdul Shakoor, Mohammed Azam, Arshad Ali, Rohan Mustafa, Asim Mustafa, Asim Malik, Shadeep Silva, Manjula Guruge, Fayyaz Ahmed, Swapnil Patil, Shaiman Anwar, Kamran Shahzad
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