Reaching the Super Six stage of the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe will help the national team lead the continued expansion of cricket in the Emirates
UAE's achievement of retaining ODI status vital to cricket's growth in the country and deserves to be celebrated
Having lived through the unbearable highs and lows of the past six weeks, the UAE’s cricketers might have expected to achieve one of the main aims of their Harare mission in a blaze of glory.
Their nerves have been frayed by the prospect of, on one hand, pursuing their dream of reaching the World Cup, while on the other safeguarding their very livelihoods.
And yet, when the momentous fact that they can carry on being a one-day international side was finally confirmed on Monday, it felt like a damp squib.
By advancing to the Super Six phase of the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe, they had secured the immediate future of cricket in the UAE. They should have been rejoicing.
And yet, on a glum day amid the drizzle at Old Hararians, they had just suffered a thrashing at the hands of Ireland. For that moment at least, all the hard work that got them to this point felt like it had been forgotten.
The achievement of preserving ODI status should not be underestimated, even though precisely what it means is not certain. The ICC is reviewing its future competitions structure beyond the Test sphere. The 50-over World Cricket League and four-day Intercontinental Cup competition might be set for facelifts.
But what can be assumed is that they will be better off – in monetary terms – being an ODI side than not.
The playing perks are relatively negligible most of the time. There is kudos attached, which the players appreciate. Chirag Suri, for example, was glowing when he made his ODI debut against West Indies last week. This from a player who has been around the national team for a good while now, and went to the Indian Premier League last year.
But it is hardly the guarantee of regular, big-match action that it really should be. The UAE have played just 31 ODIs since they earned that status by reaching the final of the 2014 Qualifier.
Compare that to India, who have played 90 ODIs in the same period. Or Sri Lanka, who have played a whopping 110. That works out at 27.5 per year – so nearly as much as UAE have played in four.
Ten of the 31 the UAE have played have been in official ICC tournaments – the final of the Qualifier four years ago, six at the World Cup a year later, then three in the first round of this event in Harare. Eight of the matches were organised as glorified practice for those bigger events. And just two of the ODIs played outside of ICC competition were against a Full member, Ireland, earlier this year.
And yet the privileges ODI status afford are vital from a financial standpoint.
For the past six weeks, the national team have basically been fire-fighting, scratching with all they have to retain what they have got.
This result in Zimbabwe goes further than just retaining funding, maintaining the status quo, keeping their jobs, and making sure they can put bread on the table.
Now UAE cricket can build. They can plan for a future that once felt certain, then approximately a month ago, as the national team dodged showers in Namibia in international cricket’s third tier, seemed anything but. Then it seemed like, well, maybe there is still a chance. Then, finally, the confirmation that they can in fact carry on planning. What a relief.
The past 18 months have been transformative for the sport in the Emirates. Increased ICC funding has enabled the Emirates Cricket Board to employ professional players for the first time.
No longer are they beholden to cricket-loving employers to recruit skilled players to their corporations, then hope they give them enough time off to play and train.
When the UAE went to the World Cup in 2015, around two-thirds of their players were given paid leave. The other six were not. That meant the ECB had to cover the wages of the accounts clerks, sales reps and receptionists while they were away from their desks for two months playing in cricket’s showpiece tournament. Even that was a strain on the budget.
That was only three years ago, but it feels like a different age. It shows just how far the extra financing has reached since that they are now in position to have full-time paid players.
Continued financing means more investment can be made in professionalism. Maybe the domestic game can be given a long-awaited, long-required overhaul. An oft-touted national academy might become feasible.
It goes without saying, the board still crave independent corporate investment. There must be a way to better harness the passion of the owners of companies like Danube, Mulk Holdings and others to better service the needs of the national team.
The UAE team is just the tip of the spear, but thanks to their feats in Zimbabwe, the entire domestic game in the country will benefit. They deserve to be celebrated.