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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 17 August 2018

Mission accomplished for UAE cricketers, but victory over Namibia means so much more

And, relax.

Rohan Mustafa, UAE cricket’s Captain Fantastic, said he had woken 22 times in the night on the eve of their final pool match in the World Cricket League Division 2, so tense had he been.

Coach Dougie Brown, who probably thought he had experienced most things the game had to offer in 18 years as a first-class cricketer, said it had been the longest three days of his life.

Even at the halfway stage of the decisive match in Windhoek, with spirits lifted by a skilful batting display that left Namibia needing 248 to win, the players were on edge. “Now, pray,” said Mohammed Usman, who had just played a fine hand with the bat himself.

Even the weather was dramatic. Play was delayed for 30 minutes midway through Namibia’s reply when an electrical storm skirted past the ground, refusing to fully unload its contents, but playing havoc with wrought emotions anyway.

Had the rain fallen in the sort of torrent that seemed to be happening nearby, and ended the game there and then, the UAE would have progressed to the next stage of World Cup qualifying.

They were 20 runs ahead on the Duckworth-Lewis calculation at the time. On the neighbouring field, Canada were far enough ahead that they would have advanced with the UAE, too.

But they went back out, the games restarted from the same spot, and all those whose livelihoods depended on the outcome plugged themselves back in to the metaphorical cardiograph.

Namibia got close. But not close enough. Yet even in their moment of glory, UAE might still have been denied.

Had Nepal tied with Canada next door, those two teams would have advanced instead of the UAE. A number of players and even members of the coaching staff were unaware, or had forgotten, that was the case until well after the event. Perhaps their glorious oblivion was for the best. That scenario was one ball away from coming to pass.

And now, they can all breathe again. Or at least they can for three weeks or so, until they head to Zimbabwe for the World Cup Qualifier and go through this all again.

They will still be playing for their careers when they get there. They need to finish among the top three out of five Associate nations – which does not included Netherlands – in the Qualifier to retain all the privileges that come with being a one-day international side. But they will be better for this experience.

“Every single ball, there is something riding on,” Brown said of the WCL adventure in Namibia. “If you get it right, that is good, if you get it wrong, that is disastrous. That is pretty much how it is. It is completely extreme.

“I am delighted to be going to Zimbabwe. I must admit I didn’t want to think about the consequences of us not doing that.”

Maybe, too, the players that faltered as the UAE stuttered their way – albeit ultimately successfully – through this week’s competition will find their best form again in Zimbabwe.

Shaiman Anwar, the senior batsman in the team, has already hinted at a return to past glories. He saved his best for the very last, scooping the match award for the classy half-century that set up the 19-run win over Namibia.

“As a senior player, I thought we have to stay there,” Shaiman said. “I thought if I could stay to the end of the innings, we can put a good score on the board, that would be helpful for the team.

“More than 200 at this ground was going to be a good total because, the past couple of matches, 180 was the par score, so 200 was a good total. We got 247, and Namibia played well, but we finished well.”

For the record, they have one more match in the WCL Division 2, the small matter of the final against Nepal on Thursday.

It would be surprising whether either side could really give two hoots about that fixture. For each of the finalists, mission has already been accomplished.

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