Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 November 2019

Adversity bringing the best of UAE players during T20 World Cup qualifier

Suspension of fourth player in corruption probe dampens mood but hosts deliver superb win over Hong Kong

Ahmed Raza, right, has been asked to lead the UAE in a difficult period. Pawan Singh / The National
Ahmed Raza, right, has been asked to lead the UAE in a difficult period. Pawan Singh / The National

The national team continue to rage against adversity, after picking up a second valuable win in their quest for qualification for the T20 World Cup, on the same day as losing yet another player to suspension.

Ashfaq Ahmed became the fourth UAE player to be banned pending an ICC investigation into corruption.

Mohammed Naveed, Shaiman Anwar and Qadeer Ahmed were formally charged with a variety of breaches of cricket’s anti-corruption code on Wednesday.

Ashfaq had been conspicuous by his absence from the starting line up as UAE comfortably beat Hong Kong on Monday to maintain their bid for a place in the T20 World Cup in Australia last year.

A little over an hour after the national team set the seal on their eight-wicket win at the Zayed Cricket Stadium, it was announced the opener had also been thrown out of the squad.

“Further to the ongoing investigations led by the ICC Anti-Corruption Unit, Emirates Cricket Board has today provisionally suspended Ashfaq Ahmed with immediate effect,” the ECB said in a statement.

“No formal charges have been laid against the player, and the board will wait for the conclusion of proceedings before making any further comment.

“The board fully supports the ICC and the ICC anti-corruption unit in their efforts and denounces any activities of corruption.”

UAE are not planning to call up a replacement for Ashfaq as yet. And, despite the gloom surrounding the game refusing to shift, the team are somehow managing to thrive.

Until news broke of the latest corruption controversy, Monday had been an uplifting day after a time of such difficulty. Oddly, the corruption purge within UAE cricket has coincided with an upswing in support for the national team.

In the past, they have rarely attracted any level of support at home matches.

Whenever there have been sizeable crowds for matches involving the national team in this country, it has been when Nepal or Afghanistan have been the opposition, and the UAE have felt like the away side.

And yet the two wins in the space of three days – first against Ireland, then against Hong Kong this time – have been witnessed by relatively appreciable crowds in the capital.

After Chirag Suri anchored the win over Hong Kong, scores of schoolchildren flocked to the barrier at the front of the main stand, and chanted: “UAE! UAE! Suri! Suri!”

The batsman, who was unbeaten on 44 as the win was sealed with 29 balls to spare, signed autographs, and posed for selfies.

“They are schoolkids, and we are the guys they should be looking up to,” Ahmed Raza, the UAE captain, said. “We have to be role models for them. As players, it is an amazing feeling to play in front of a decent crowd.”

It feels significant that, during this time of turmoil for the game, the players who have carried the burden and shone the brightest all grew up here with each other.

Raza and Rohan Mustafa, who were both outstanding again with the ball as Hong Kong were limited to 116-7 from their 20 overs, went to school together.

And Raza, Rameez Shahzad, and Suri all attended the same academy when they were young.

Rameez was named player of the match after scoring 54 from 37 balls. He shared in a stand worth 93 with Suri.

Despite being seven years Suri’s senior, the duo know each other’s game well, as Suri spent his formative years at the academy of Rameez’s father, Shahzad Altaf.

“I think it is a strength of our team,” Rameez, 31, said of the close bond between himself, Raza, Mustafa and Suri.

“We have been playing together for the past 20 years. We understand each other’s mentality, so while batting with Suri, Rony [Mustafa], or Ahmed, running between the wickets becomes easy.

“I always know his plan, he knows my plan, and we understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It does help.”

Updated: October 21, 2019 08:23 PM

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