National team enjoyed an informal practice session at the Old Hararians Sports Club on the eve of their match against the two-time World Cup winners
UAE in relaxed mood ahead of Cricket World Cup Qualifier against West Indies
For the past month, many of the people involved at the top of UAE cricket – players included –have spent hours biting fingernails to the quick.
The tension has at times been unbearable, as the team have essentially been playing for their livelihoods during the final throes of World Cup qualifying, first in Namibia and now Zimbabwe.
And what about on the eve of a fixture with the West Indies, the two-time World Cup winners and current World T20 holders, a side boasting household names like Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels?
Judged by their demeanour at Old Hararians Sports Club on Sunday, they could not be more chilled.
The UAE practice session was voluntary. Most were happy to attend, to ease out the aches from Sunday’s uplifting win over Papua New Guinea in the opening game of the World Cup Qualifier.
It was a low-intensity session. Old Hararians, in a suburb three kilometres north of the city centre of Zimbabwe’s capital, lends itself to such an ambiance.
It is more village green than stadium, with two neatly tendered cricket fields next to each other, and a slightly-more ramshackle rugby pitch on the other side of a grass bank. It is certainly an understated place for the West Indies to be starting their first ever World Cup-qualifying campaign.
The staff were just as active at training as the national team’s players. Andy Russell, the team manager, wanted to see if he could hit a six into the sightscreen from the middle. He managed it first time.
Net practice on the adjacent field wound up with a range-hitting contest between some players and the staff. Dom Telo, the assistant coach, smoked it the furthest, further even than Rameez Shahzad, who is arguably the biggest hitter in the national team. Asif Ijaz, the physiotherapist, hit it the shortest.
Dougie Brown, the head coach, seemed more fussed by the fact he was not middling his shots quite as he did in his playing pomp than he was about the challenge his team was about to face.
The UAE players know their campaign will not be defined by a game against the most celebrated team at the Qualifier. Anything they get from the West Indies will be a bonus.
“The pressure will be on West Indies,” Rohan Mustafa, the captain, said. “We will play hard and give a tough time to them. I believe they have to be worried about us.”
There was reason for optimism, too, in the warm-up match the two sides played on Thursday. The Caribbean side won that game by 32 runs, and four days on Jason Holder, their captain, said: “I don’t know if they pushed us close”.
But the UAE were delighted to have dismissed their illustrious counterparts for 115 back then.
“I’m expecting it to be the same, or even better than the last game,” said Imran Haider, who took 4-16 with his leg-spin in the practice match.
“I will be attacking. If I can get early breakthroughs, I will try to finish it well. I am just bowling to a batsman. I’m not keeping it in mind that it is Chris Gayle or Marlon Samuels, or any big names.
“I am just considering that I am bowling to a batsman, and I don’t know who they are.”
Haider said he and his fellow bowlers followed where Mohammed Naveed had led against the West Indies, and again in the match against PNG.
Naveed dismissed Gayle and the big-hitting Evin Lewis in the same over of the warm-up match.
Against PNG on Sunday, he took his first five-wicket haul in one-day international cricket, despite having a heavily bandaged left hand. He is looking forward to making his presence felt again.
“It is cricket, not pressure, and our coach and captain have just said to go and enjoy,” Naveed said. “Chris Gayle is playing, Evin Lewis, Marlon Samuels and Kemar Roach, but there is no pressure. It is all about enjoying.”