UAE ready to deliver in crunch Asia Cup Qualifier against Oman
Victory for the national team in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday will guarantee a place in the final, where the winner will compete in the Asia Cup
UAE’s cricketers insist they will thrive in their make-or-break fixture with Oman in the Asia Cup Qualifier on Tuesday, pointing out they have become used to such occasions this year.
It is possible that both sides could advance from the final match of pool play at the event in Malaysia, but the loser would be dependent on Nepal beating Hong Kong, and only narrowly, in the other fixture.
Oman top the table on seven points, with UAE second a point behind. Hong Kong, who handed the UAE their lone defeat in the competition so far, are a point further back, with Nepal on four. Only the winners of Thursday’s final will make it to the main competition, which is being played in Dubai and Abu Dhabi from September 15 onwards.
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The national team could render the pool-phase permutations insignificant by repeating what they did in the World Cricket League Division 2 in February, and beat Oman.
That fixture, a 46-run win in Namibia, was just one of a string of tense encounters the UAE have faced so far this year.
At various points in 2018, the national team players have been playing for World Cup qualification, one-day international status, and now the chance to play against the giants of India and Pakistan in a competition played in their own back yard.
The last time they faced Oman, seven months ago, they were all but playing for their livelihoods. If they had not made it through that, ODI status – which equates to vital ICC financing – would have been taken away, and they would likely all have been out of jobs.
Dougie Brown, the coach, labelled that tournament in Namibia the most stressful week of a career in professional cricket that is into its 21st year.
The stakes might not quite be so high when they play their Gulf neighbours again in Kuala Lumpur, but there is still a coveted Asia Cup place riding on it.
Ahmed Raza, the in-from left-arm spinner, says the UAE side revel in the pressure.
“I absolutely think we play our best cricket when we are under the pump,” Raza said.
“We obviously wanted a win against Hong Kong [on Saturday, when UAE lost by 182 runs] to make life easier for us, but a wake-up call wasn’t bad.
“It was just a bad day for all of us collectively, and they outplayed us. It is all to play for on Tuesday, and hopefully if we make the final, too.”
Raza is likely to play a key role, judged by his form in Malaysia. The left-arm spinner has taken 14 wickets in the four matches so far.
The return marks quite a departure for a player who has generally been relied upon to dry up runs while other bowlers attack.
“It has been a great tournament so far with the ball, apart from the Hong Kong game,” Raza said. “I’ve definitely been able to attack more here as a couple of pitches have had spin in them, but I am just trying to keep things simple at bowl at the stumps which is key here.
“I hope the luck stays on my side for another couple of days.”
Rohan Mustafa, whose off-spin has complemented Raza’s left-arm spin, is confident of progress against Oman, even if he is wary of their pace attack.
“The last match against Oman is a very crucial match for us,” Mustafa, the UAE captain, said. “They have a very good bowling attack, but we will be positive, play our natural game, and hopefully we can win.”
Updated: September 3, 2018 08:52 AM