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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

UAE's heroic display against Zimbabwe a clear sign of progress and makes mockery of ICC's decision to shrink World Cup

A three-run win in Harare highlighted the national team's progress in recent years, progress that threatens to be stunted by cricket's decision makers

Mohammed Naveed excelled against Zimbabwe with three wickets but his chances to continue showcasing his talent will be limited. Courtesy ICC
Mohammed Naveed excelled against Zimbabwe with three wickets but his chances to continue showcasing his talent will be limited. Courtesy ICC

Why would anyone not want more of this? Who in their right mind would want to bar the heroes of UAE cricket from having more chances to show their talent on cricket’s biggest stages? Why in the world have a blackout on watching Rameez Shahzad bat? Or Mohammed Naveed bowl?

The national team could have done little more to cock a snook at the ICC by way of their glorious farewell to the World Cup Qualifier in Harare on Thursday. A 10-team World Cup? What a load of cobblers.

Rameez will be 35 by the time the UAE next have a chance to play at a World Cup. Naveed will be 36. Gems like those two – plus many others besides, who are hidden way from wider view in Associate cricket – should be celebrated. Instead, they are inhibited by ever diminishing chances of exposure.

Once it would have been easy to damn the national team’s exploits in beating Zimbabwe on home turf, and thus all but ending their chances of going to the World Cup, with patronising faint praise. It was a fluke by some plucky have-a-go-heroes, right?

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Wrong. This was years in the planning. The fruition of hard work by proper professionals, who are just getting to grips with what it means to practice and play cricket all day, rather than as a hobby at the end of a work shift.

And this is what they can do, given the chance. Three-run winners, over a side who have long benefitted from all the perks that go with being a Test nation.

It would also be easy to assume the UAE players might have been feeling the pressure, as the experienced internationals from Zimbabwe ticked down the runs to their rain-abbreviated target of 230 in 40 overs.

They were playing in front of a TV audience that likely numbered in the millions, rather than thousands. Some for the first time, all at least for the first time since the Asia Cup T20 in Bangladesh two years ago.

And then there was the crowd just beyond the advertising hoardings. A coursing, joyous, nervous, angst-filled mass of Zimbabwean fanatics. Midway through the afternoon, the doors were locked shut at Harare Sports Club. There was no room for anyone else to come in.

Again, that would be to forget the facts of UAE cricket’s recent history. This match was, in effect, not much more than an exhibition one for the national team. The effects of adverse results midway through the tournament – possible as a consequence of the absence of a number of players because of illness – meant nothing was actually riding on this game for UAE.

It meant the world to their opponents. UAE could empathise with that. That was them a month ago. Even though they were playing in front of handfuls of spectators at sleepy grounds in Namibia, they had everything to lose in high-pressure matches.

Having dragged their way through that experience, they will have known just how Zimbabwe’s players were feeling. It is not nice to have your existence, your livelihood, on the line when trying to win a cricket match.

“I feel sorry for them, but it is a part of the game,” Rohan Mustafa, the UAE captain, said in his post-match television interview, conducted alongside his crestfallen opposite number, Graeme Cremer.

And now what? Where does UAE cricket go from here? Who knows what the future of the international game beyond the elite’s cosy club is going to look like? Even the ICC don’t. They are currently having a review of the competitions structure below Test level.

One thing is for sure, UAE’s cricketers deserve more opportunities than are available at present. They have shown that, by beating a full member side for the first time in 24 years of trying.

So more UAE children can look at Rameez Shahzad and think, “If he can bat like that, then maybe so can I”. And so the next time Mohammed Naveed plays a tape-ball match in Khorfakkan, opposing batsmen can try to take a six off that bloke who was too good for Zimbabwe in that game they watched on the TV.

“It is a great achievement for us, winning against a Test nation for the first time,” Mustafa said. “As the UAE team, no-one knows about us. But I think now they will know about us."

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