Ahmed Raza eager to 'pull on that UAE jersey again' ahead of USA T20 series
Raza, Rohan Mustafa and Ahmed Shahzad set for return from suspensions as a busy season beckons for national team
The United States will play their first Twenty20 international matches when they face UAE in a two-match series at the ICC Academy in Dubai this weekend.
The home team have had nothing like such a wait, what with it being barely six weeks since they faced Nepal at the same ground.
Yet they will still be keen to make up for lost time, and for more than one reason. The hosts were pained by the 2-1 defeat suffered against a Nepal side brimming with youthful vigour.
Then there are the three players that cut rueful figures beyond the boundary during that series, watching the struggles of their teammates, knowing they were barred from doing anything to help.
Each of Rohan Mustafa, Rameez Shahzad and Ahmed Raza have been now immediately restored to the national team squad, having served the eight-week bans that kept them from facing Nepal.
There are still lasting signs of the fall-out. Mustafa, for example, has been replaced as captain by Mohammed Naveed. But all are ready to right the wrongs of the recent past.
“It was devastating, very depressing,” Raza said. “I watched a few of the Nepal games, and to see UAE not winning both those series was very upsetting, because you were not part of it and couldn’t do anything to affect it from the sidelines.
“Then you feel that you’ve let down a few people, you’ve let down yourself and your team.
“I am really looking forward to coming back into the squad, and hopefully into a winning team again.”
The three players were suspended for criticising the organisation of the Emerging Teams Asia Cup by way of frustrated social media posts at the end of last year.
For Raza, it was the only prolonged absence he had had from the team since missing out on selection for the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
“It was upsetting because, for the past four years, I have not missed out on anything,” Raza said. “Now the first time I have missed a series is because of a reaction I made on Twitter.
“That was obviously not great, and having to watch your team from the sidelines is not a great sight. You cannot make a difference to the result.
“It was not an easy period, but I am really, really looking forward to pulling on that UAE jersey again for the first time in about three months.”
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None of the UAE’s players will want to miss any of what lies ahead for them in 2019.
There is a probable – although, as yet unconfirmed – tour to Zimbabwe for an ODI series next month, the first time ever the UAE will play a Full Member country in a bilateral series.
Later in the year is the far more significant goal of a place at the 2020 T20 World Cup, via a qualification tournament that will be taking place on home soil.
UAE were earlier this month confirmed as hosts of the Qualifier, which will be staged in October and November. The 14-team tournament carries six places on offer for the main event 12 months later.
As hosts, the UAE are one of seven teams already assured a place at the Qualifier – with Scotland, Zimbabwe, Netherlands, Hong Kong, Oman and Ireland the others.
It means the UAE will be spared having to pre-qualify, via a tournament scheduled for August in Malaysia.
Given the stresses they faced at such competitions last year – in Namibia, Malaysia, and Pakistan – the national team are grateful to be going straight into their home event.
Dougie Brown, the UAE coach, said pre-qualifying events can be particularly “nervy places to be”, based on the experiences of 2018.
But he says his side will still need competitive cricket – such as the series against USA – if they are to make it to Australia.
“We will probably go into the World Cup T20 Qualifier as one of the favourites among the Associates, simply because it is in our back yard,” Brown said.
“What it does do is give us a huge focus. What we are looking to do is make sure we can invest time in our T20 cricket between now and then.
“We will get competitive cricket and give ourselves ample opportunity to make sure we are best placed to start that tournament in October."
Updated: March 14, 2019 10:48 AM