x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

All-rounders are strength for UAE on the rise

UAE usually take the field with nine or 10 bowlers anyway. Having a battery of all-rounders is clearly no bad thing in 50-over cricket, either.

Back in 1996, when the national side made their sole appearance at a World Cup to date, cricket could not have been much further from the minds of Afghan people.

The Taliban was in the process of assuming power of the country after years of civil war. It has been well documented that, in the midst of conflict, cricket found unlikely roots.

Fifteen years on, the landscape of the sport is very different. Afghanistan can now lay strong claims, along with Ireland, to being regarded as the leading cricket nation outside of the Test arena.

UAE cricket, meanwhile, has spent some of that time standing still, and the rest of it in regression.

Until now, that is.

The qualifying process for the 2015 World Cup begins today, when the national team play an "away" match against Afghanistan in Sharjah.

The Afghans are regarded among the favourites to take one of the two World Cup qualifying berths on offer in an eight-nation group, which lasts over the next two years.

The UAE, however, are refusing to be cowed. Under the guidance of Kabir Khan, the former Afghanistan coach, the national team have been showing signs of promise in recent times. These could be the shoots of a resurgence in cricket in this country.

On the basis of the Intercontinental Cup match just completed between these sides, if anyone should be doing the fearing, it should be the Afghans.

The UAE were just three wickets away from completing a victory that had not been foreseen by many outside of their dressing room. Some of those inside it may even have had their doubts.

The national team have been invested with a new belief of late. Their morale will only have increased by their performance in the four-day match against the Afghans, and before that against Kenya, who have played at every World Cup since the UAE last appeared on that stage.

"When Afghanistan came here on the first day, they thought they were just going to come, destroy us and go back," Kabir, their bullish coach, said. "Seeing them on the back foot made us very happy."

In reaching a position of dominance in the Intercontinental Cup game, the UAE side proved that there is more than one way to skin a cat.

For the majority of cricket's history, the theory has always been that your batsmen score your runs, while the bowlers are there to take the wickets.

Archaic thinking, of course, which the national team inverted in their display against the Afghan side, the champions.

Arshad Ali, their opening batsman, was in lean form with the bat, but not to worry. He took nine wickets in the match instead, to take them to the verge of an outright victory. They were held to a draw.

That followed on from Amjad Javed's knock of 76, the equal top score in the UAE's first innings. Javed opens the bowling.

They should be able to cope just fine with the news that Vikrant Shetty, the off-spinning all-rounder, has been reported for a suspect bowling action. They usually take the field with nine or 10 bowlers anyway, and routinely give each of them a chance.

Having a battery of all-rounders is clearly no bad thing in 50-over cricket, either.

These matches are not the be-all and end-all of the qualifying process, as another tournament, in the style of the old ICC Trophy, is planned to decide the last two qualifying places for 2015.

However, Kabir is laying much importance on these matches. He believes finishing in the top two in the eight-team league is less of a chance than fighting through a one-off tournament.

pradley@thenational.ae