Coach Dougie Brown leads plaudits of captain who has led the UAE to March's World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe.
Rohan Mustafa relishes leading from the front for triumphant UAE
When the UAE team arrived in Namibia for the penultimate phase of qualifying for the 2019 World Cup a little under two weeks ago, they were confident.
Preparation, via full one-day internationals against strong opposition, and then an acclimatisation tour to Pretoria, had been good. They felt well placed to tear through the field and clinch one of the two places on offer for the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe next month.
All the while, though, their captain feared for his form. Since Rohan Mustafa was – surprisingly, in the opinion of some observers – handed the captaincy a year ago, the results of the national team have been transformed.
National team coach says WCL Division 2 in Namibia 'is a really meaningful tournament' and 'we go to Zimbabwe with some really telling cricket under our belts
They were in the doldrums back then, with a run of pitiful results and a missed qualification for the 2016 World Twenty20 following on from the high of playing at the 2015 World Cup.
Mustafa, with his spiky, ultra-aggressive leadership, provided a new direction, in harness with the new coach Dougie Brown, and the team have soared since.
But his personal form dipped just as they were getting ready for the most important test of his tenure to date.
“I didn’t perform against Ireland and Scotland in the practice matches in Dubai, and I was a little worried,” said Mustafa, whose personal prospects were turned around when he was promoted from the middle order to open in 2016.
“My team were worried about me because they need a player to give them a very good start. I aim to be that player.
“When we went to Pretoria, the wicket was slow, and I didn’t perform there, either.”
Then, as the team started to stumble in Windhoek, teetering on the edge of a precipice that could have been ruinous for the sport in the UAE, Mustafa grew.
His love of a challenge was evident in the Canada game – the first of two games UAE eventually lost – when he brought himself on to bowl just the fourth over, after a searing start from the opposition openers. He picked up a wicket with his very first ball.
Aaqib Javed, the former UAE coach, used to term Mustafa his “man for a crisis”. Despite being an off-spinner, he regularly takes on the challenge of bowling the slog overs.
At most of the major pressure points over a week that was addled with tension, Mustafa did his best to put himself in the middle of it.
He ended the tournament with 13 wickets, which was third best behind Nepal’s Sandeep Lamichhane and Oman’s Bilal Khan. And he made 183 runs with the bat, book-ending the competition with half-centuries against Kenya in the opener, and Nepal in the final.
“When I came [to the opening game against Canada] Nedo [Mohammed Naveed] and Ahmed Raza encouraged me,” Mustafa said.
“The team have been supporting me in everything, in my decisions, if I do something wrong, they just support me.
“I think, how the team has been performing over the past few months, I was confident.
“Over here, it has been rainy weather, and the wickets were not helpful. Somewhere, somehow, you need luck as well.”
Mustafa bowled the final over as UAE finally booked their ticket to the Qualifier. Namibia needed 22 runs off his final over to beat the national team. They managed just two.
“His performances speak for themselves,” Brown said of Mustafa. “When there is a disaster about to happen, he brings himself on and manages to avert the disaster.
“He loves the competitive element of every single bit of the game, both with the bat and the ball. This week, he has been unbelievable. When we have needed a wicket, he has got one. When we have need a tight over, he has bowled it.
“He just makes things happen. He is leading exceptionally well, and the future of UAE cricket from its captaincy perspective, is very bright.”
World Cricket League Division 2, Namibia
Runners up: Nepal
Leading run scorers
1 Paras Khadka (Nepal), 241 runs at 48.20
2 Ashfaq Ahmed (UAE), 237 at 39.50
3 Gerhard Erasmus (Namibia), 229 at 57.25
4 Craig Williams (Namibia), 225 runs at 45.00
5 Ruvindu Gunasekera (Canada), 216 at 36.00
Leading wicket takers
1 Sandeep Lamichhane (Nepal), 17 wickets
2 Bilal Khan (Oman), 17
3 Rohan Mustafa (UAE), 13
4 Nikhil Dutta (Canada), 11
5 Bernard Scholtz (Namibia), 11