- National team defeat Saudis by seven wickets
- Victory comes a day after six-wicket win over Qatar
- UAE by far the highest-ranked team in the tournament
UAE beat Saudi Arabia to maintain perfect start at regional World Twenty20 Qualifier
Imran Haider took 3-6 in his four overs as the UAE claimed a second dominant win in the space of the opening two days of the regional World Twenty20 Qualifier in Kuwait City.
The national team are by far the highest-ranked side in the six-team event, and they have shown their class in the opening exchanges. After two rounds of matches, they are the only unbeaten side.
Having beaten Qatar by six wickets in the first match on Friday, they crushed Saudi Arabia by seven wickets a day later.
Although the national team are highly-fancied to win the tournament in Kuwait, those among them with long memories will be aware that shocks can happen.
Saudi took a surprise win off the national team in the 50-over 2008 ACC Trophy, a tournament that Rameez Shahzad, who is part of the UAE squad in Kuwait, played in.
The fortunes of the two sides have differed markedly since, however. While Saudi remain in the lower reaches of international competition, UAE have played at four major tournaments – the World T20, the World Cup, and two Asia Cups – in the decade since.
And Saudi were no match for their Gulf neighbours this time. They managed 103-9 from their 20 overs, with Haider the pick of the attack with his leg-spin, while Mohammed Naveed, Amir Hayat and Rohan Mustafa each took two wickets.
Ashfaq Ahmed, who – like UAE captain Mustafa – played as an overseas professional at a T20 tournament in Nepal earlier this month, top-scored with 46 not out to see the national team to the win.
“It’s windy here but the conditions are suitable for the spinners as the tracks are turning,” Haider said. “In T20 you have a small spell to bowl, and the teams here have free-hitting batsmen, good hitters that go from the first ball. It feels very good to change the game with my spell.”
Dougie Brown, the UAE coach, labelled Haider’s effort with the ball “ridiculously good”, as he helped check a fast start by the Saudi batsmen.
“It was another very good win against what I believe to be a dangerous side,” Brown said. “Saudi had a good win yesterday. We went into the game thinking they were one of the teams to beat, and we didn’t really allow them to do that.
“They started off quickly, but we pulled it back really, really well on a slow, turning wicket. Imran bowled unbelievably well, went past the bat on numerous occasions, and probably deserved more than three wickets. It was a ridiculously good spell.”
Brown also praised his side for the way they have maintained focus so far, despite the come down following the high-stakes cricket that preceded the tour of Kuwait.
Since the start of the year, the national team have played a string of 50-over matches, most of which carried with them significant ramifications for the future of the game in the Emirates.
Last time out, they beat Zimbabwe in front of a packed-out Harare Sports Club for their first ever win against a full member side. The matches in Kuwait, by contrast, are sparsely attended.
“It is great to have had two strong performances against two really decent sides,” Brown said.
“Coming on the back of Zimbabwe, where there were massive crowds, and getting the job done here when there are not many people watching and it is not perceived to be as big a game, credit to the players. To be two from two is a good start to the competition.”