Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 September 2020

Fitness, team balance and IPL 'exposure' on the radar of UAE director of cricket Robin Singh

Former India all-rounder has his plate full as he takes over from Dougie Brown

New UAE director of cricket Robin Singh, third from left, with members of the Emirates Cricket Board. Courtesy Robin Singh / Twitter
New UAE director of cricket Robin Singh, third from left, with members of the Emirates Cricket Board. Courtesy Robin Singh / Twitter

When Robin Singh started his new job in charge of UAE cricket this week, he might not have found an in-tray stuffed full, exactly. In fact, he might not even have known which was his in-tray.

Despite his dismissal from the role of head coach, it is understood Dougie Brown has been asked to work a notice period by the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB).

Which means the former incumbent has so far been making the same daily commute to the ICC Academy in Dubai, overseeing training sessions with players that are either his former charges, or still his current ones. It is difficult to know the difference, to be honest.

Odd working conditions for him, obviously, but for the new man, too. Whether Singh wants the guy he replaced lingering around, making judgments, is debatable.

A handover was probably useful, but anything past that? It all seems muddled, at best.

Singh has arrived at a seminal moment in UAE cricket. The pall of the corruption scandal lingers on. The ICC’s anti-corruption investigation is ongoing, and is believed to extend beyond the five players who are banned – three by the ICC themselves, and two more by the ECB.

In the wake of that, Brown had pieced together a new squad, the youngest side ever fielded by the UAE.

It seemed like they were tracking in the right direction – only for the ECB to deem they needed a new one.

So Singh is now tasked with guiding them on their “long road back," in the words of ECB general secretary Mubashir Usmani.

What does the new director of cricket need to do, and how will he go about it?

Fitness

Singh is regarded as a task master when it comes to fitness. But if he is going to trump the standards set by his predecessor, he might have to invest in a pair of Nike Vaporflys, and maybe even a motorbike.

Brown ran a sophisticated fitness regime, overseen by Peter Kelly, the strength and conditioning expert who is the last remnant of the previous staff.

Brown set an example for others to follow, too, often foregoing the bus to run back to the team hotel on away tours, whether it be in Harare, Windhoek or wherever.

The new team also have age on their side now. Fair to say, they are the fittest side UAE have ever had.

“Knowing his background, I think I will be pretty cool with that,” Ahmed Raza, the captain, said of Singh’s fitness demands.

“Given the average age of our squad now, we are all looking forward to that.”

Youth development

That average age is currently around 25, which is more than seven years younger than what it was this time last year.

How young is too young? Singh has already voiced doubts about 17-year-old wicketkeeper Vriitya Aravind.

“We have a young wicketkeeper who is inexperienced, so that is one space we need to see how we can fulfill,” Singh said.

The former India all-rounder says he wants to strike a balance between youth and experience.

“I coached in Hong Kong with a much older side than this team,” Singh said.

“In those days UAE was a really good side. They had a lot of experience to go with it.

“Today, we want to see how we can bridge that gap. You want to have a combination of young and experienced players, and people who can take on the mantle going forward.”

Dougie Brown has been sacked as UAE coach after three years in charge. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Dougie Brown was sacked as UAE coach after three years in charge. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Continuity

UAE return to Oman for a T20 series later this month, which is the opening phase of qualifying for the Asia Cup. What changes Singh implements to the makeup of the squad will be intriguing.

“Continuity is critical, but that doesn’t mean it is your birthright to play,” Singh said.

“You have to earn the right to play. My focus is to get a group of about 30 guys in the mix.

“One of the challenges that you face is that sometimes you have guys who are available and not available.

“We need to create a second layer of players who can challenge the guys who are in the XI to actually fit the bill.”

IPL

The next significant assignment the national team face is the Cricket World Cup League Two triangular in Florida in April, against USA and Scotland.

Singh will be absent. He will be on duty at the Indian Premier League with Mumbai Indians instead.

The ECB regard this as a boon for the game here, and the coach himself has spoken about a link between UAE cricket and his IPL franchise.

Only one UAE player has been to that big show before. Chirag Suri did not play for Gujarat Lions in the 2017 IPL, but that tournament still kick-started his career.

He came back loaded with ideas gleaned from the sport’s most luminous stars.

If Singh can expose more UAE players to the same opportunities, the benefits could be many.

Updated: February 13, 2020 03:55 PM

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