'They can do anything on their day' - UAE have plenty of reason for optimism in Under 19 World Cup
They may be short of experience and up against a superpower, but UAE have some outstanding players
The bare facts suggest they have no chance of doing much. It is just their second ever appearance at this level, and the first time they have qualified by means other than being the hosts.
In their group they have a cricket superpower, South Africa, who are the host nation, and who won the competition in the recent past.
Then there is Afghanistan, a coming force in cricket at all levels, but particularly in the age-group game. In New Zealand two years ago, the Afghans reached the semi-finals of the Under 19 World Cup.
And, after all, UAE are just a little old Associate nation anyway.
But, whisper it: the UAE team that will play at the U19 World Cup in South Africa have plenty of reason to be optimistic.
Firstly, they have three players who are so outstanding, they already have experience of senior one-day international cricket.
Another of them scored a century against Sri Lanka in the U19 Asia Cup last September.
And then there was the win over New Zealand in the warm up match last week.
Wins over teams from Test-playing countries are as rare as hen’s teeth for UAE. The senior team, for example, have managed it just once in 23 one-day internationals so far.
Hope springs, ahead of their first match against Canada on Saturday. Dom Telo, the UAE U19 coach, is warning against expecting too much from his young charges, but hopes they can “do a few crazy things”.
“No-one is expecting us to go out there and win the World Cup,” Telo said.
“But I can guarantee you, within those 15 young men’s minds, that is what they want to do and what they feel they are capable of.
“Honestly, they are a talented bunch kids, and they can do anything on their day.
“Success for me is making sure they are growing and learning every day. If we can do a few crazy things at this World Cup, that will be amazing.
“It is more about us, and not worrying about the opposition. We know what we are capable of. We know our strengths, we know our limitations.”
Ansh Tandon was the batsman who scored the ton against Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup last September that altered what the UAE’s players thought they were capable of.
Delhi-born, and with a father who had played Ranji Trophy cricket in the past, Tandon first learnt the game himself via “gully” – or street – cricket after the family moved to Dubai when he was seven.
He is excited for the chance to play on a stage previously graced by some of the current stars of the world game.
“Every big name in cricket has been through the U19 World Cup,” Tandon said. "I just want to go out there and avail the right opportunities, do well for my team, and maybe get a couple of winning performances.
“You shouldn’t think about the opposition, you should just back your skills. That’s what we have been doing. For me, to get a hundred against Sri Lanka was a great learning curve for me.
“Coming from an Associate country, getting a hundred against them was a really big opportunity.”
Tandon shared a dressing room with the likes of Daren Sammy and Andre Russell when he played at the Abu Dhabi T10 at the end of last year.
Not all the players have had those sort of opportunities just yet.
Alishan Sharafu only turned 17 on January 10, and the highly-rated batsman is taking time off from Our Own High School Al Warqa’a to play in South Africa.
“Not many players in the world get this opportunity,” Sharafu said. “We have gelled really nicely together as a team, and all pulled together in the same direction. Thankfully, we are in the World Cup now.
“I want to contribute and give my 100 per cent, which will hopefully contribute a few winning performances for the team."
Updated: January 16, 2020 12:22 PM