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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Sajan at the centre of subplot involving UAE, India and Sri Lanka at Indoor Cricket World Cup

Dubai businessman, indoor cricket obsessive and India team mentor is plotting the downfall of fellow Asian sides. 

Aqib Malik in action for the UAE against Sri Lanka at the Indoor Cricket World Cup. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Aqib Malik in action for the UAE against Sri Lanka at the Indoor Cricket World Cup. Chris Whiteoak / The National

When the UAE, Sri Lanka and India say they are playing for local bragging rights at the Indoor Cricket World Cup, “local” is a far smaller scale than from here to the other side of the subcontinent.

Given the themes that link the three Asian sides, there is a tournament within a tournament playing out between them.

Five of the outstanding players in the Sri Lanka side used to play in the UAE as paid professional indoor cricketers.

When Anis Sajan, the Dubai businessman and indoor cricket obsessive, shut his cricket operation last year, all the players were rendered unemployed and headed home.

Now they are back in Dubai for the World Cup with a point to prove – but they might not know who to take aim at first: their former teammates or their ex-boss.

The UAE side contains a variety of their former teammates, but Sajan himself is plotting the downfall of both as the team mentor of India.

The fixture list pitted the Sri Lankans against the UAE first. They claimed a comfortable win, which could prove valuable in the search for a semi-final place, after the UAE faltered to just 23 from their 16 overs.

“I lived here until a year ago, playing for Danube, and these courts feel like a second home to me,” Tharindu Mendis, the Sri Lanka captain, said.

“I know everybody from the UAE personally, I know these courts so well, so of course it was a good game for us.

“Now the next two games [against England and India on Thursday] are very important. If we win those we have a very good chance of making the semi-finals.”

It was the second damaging defeat in two nights for the UAE against Asian counterparts.

Sajan’s insider knowledge helped strike a vital blow for India in the bid for a place in the last four, in an extraordinary game on Monday.

Insportz was teeming with supporters of both sides when UAE played India in the late match on Day 3. Hundreds came wearing blue replica India shirts. The remainder were unequivocal in their support of the host nation.

The Indians kept their cool best amid the din. They managed to defend a meagre total of 49, even though that was subsequently reduced to 39 because of a 10-run time penalty.

Sajan said the build up to that game has comprised of his wife cooking the players lunch, watching the India v Australia one-day international for inspiration, and then he picked apart the opposition.

“We had a 15-minute brainstorming session talking about every UAE player, their strengths and weakness, from the captain till the end,” Sajan said.

“Whatever we spoke about, they implemented. We targeted the captain [Saqib Nazir], knowing he would be under a lot of pressure and stress.”

The two losses came either side of a convincing win over Singapore for UAE. Now they must beat Malaysia in their final match on Thursday, and hope other results go their way, if they are to progress.

Vikrant Shetty, the UAE vice-captain, acknowledged his side had struggled to cope when the pressure was at its greatest.

“The positives for us is that we know we are a good side and we are playing a World Cup for the first time,” Shetty said.

“We are inexperienced perhaps and unable to handle the pressure. The fielding of Sri Lanka made a big difference, their bowling was also very good.

“We are doing our basics right, but under pressure we are losing it. Against India we should have won. But at the last minute we have to try and not play rash shots and do things right.”

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