West Indies challenge awaits triumphant UAE at the World Cup Qualifier
After winning the World Cricket League Division 2 title attention now turns to trying to qualify for 2019 World Cup in Zimbabwe in March.
Ashfaq Ahmed scored his maiden century for the UAE as the national team clinched the World Cricket League Division 2 title - and booked a fixture against two-time World Cup-winners West Indies in the process.
The fact UAE beat Nepal by seven runs in the final in Namibia means they will be entered into Group A of the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe next month.
After opening that competition against Papua New Guinea on March 4, they will face West Indies, who are the reigning world champions in the Twenty20 format, two days later in Harare.
The Caribbean side, who were the first winners of the sport’s showpiece event in 1975, are going through the qualifying process for the first time, having finished outside the top eight of the one-day standings.
The 10-team Qualifier in Zimbabwe will decide the final two teams to make in to next year’s World Cup in England.
Papua New Guinea, Ireland and the Netherlands are the other teams in the UAE’s first-round pool who they will face.
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- Watch: Sandeep Lamichhane rises to the occasion in another 'heart-attack game' as Nepal edge Kenya
The coming weeks provide tantalising prospects for the players of the national team, typified by the WCL final match-winner Ashfaq.
A journeyman cricketer who left behind a first-class career in his native Lahore to move to Dubai in 2012, he only debuted for the national team in November on a trial basis in a friendly series against Zimbabwe A.
He has been a revelation ever since. His first century, which he finally reached on the biggest stage yet, against Nepal in Windhoek, had felt like a long-time coming, given how prolific he has been since joining the side.
“I’m very happy to have scored a hundred in a big event like this,” Ashfaq said.
“I should have scored a hundred before, I know that. I was gutted when I didn’t get one against Scotland [in a one-day international in Dubai last month] and even in this tournament I should have done against Kenya when I was set.
“I wanted to get the big one, and I was very determined to do that today.”
Being given the chance to play for the UAE, let alone the prospect of playing against the likes of West Indies, is the realisation of a career goal for Ashfaq. “Every cricketer has the dream to play cricket for their country, and I am very grateful UAE has given me that chance,” Ashfaq said. “I just want to do well whenever I’m given a chance.”
Amir Hayat, another player who was given his chance in the 5-0 cleansweep of Zimbabwe A in November, took four wickets in the final as the UAE successfully defended their score of 277-4 from their 50 overs.
The margin of victory belied the fact the UAE were relatively comfortable winners, only for Paras Khadka, the Nepal captain, to hit three sixes off the last four balls.
He went to a century in the process. It was barely celebrated by either his team or the batsman himself given it was not enough to save them from defeat.
Bearing in mind it was a final, the whole match had a subdued atmosphere surrounding it, especially when set against the extreme tension of a day earlier.
Both teams had clinched their place in the Qualifier in nerve-racking style on Wednesday, and the players appeared far more relaxed in the final.
“We won when it mattered over the course of the past week,” Khadka said.
“We played incredible cricket and showed a lot of good character.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t cross the line [in the final] but still, all the boys have put in a lot of hard work, and I couldn’t be any prouder.”
Updated: February 15, 2018 10:50 PM