x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Emirates Airline T20: hopes of UAE host side go up in smoke

The Fly Emirates XI side showed ambition against teams such as MCC, Lancashire and Sussex but that was not enough, reports Osman Samiuddin.

Set a daunting target of 173 by Sussex Sharks in the final, Fly Emirates batsmen tried to go for the shots and folded cheaply. Jaime Puebla / The National
Set a daunting target of 173 by Sussex Sharks in the final, Fly Emirates batsmen tried to go for the shots and folded cheaply. Jaime Puebla / The National

Let us not be squeamish about this and hide from the truth. There were a few cigarettes being smoked openly among the Fly Emirates XI side as they nervously but exuberantly chased down 129 against Lancashire Lightning.

As the chase got tighter in their semi-final of the Emirates Twenty20 at The Sevens, the more frequent became the puffs and the louder the cheers of exhortation and cries of exasperation.

They finally sneaked through with one ball to spare, much to their collective delight, but also in particular that of Shoeb Muljiani, the team manager.

Muljiani looked every inch the football coach, moved to offer comment on every ball of the last couple of overs, unable to stay still, and yes, some cigarettes were smoked.

The nicotine habit and an obvious desire to win served as heartening reminders of the joys of amateur cricket.

By contrast, as expected, no one from Lancashire, Sussex or the MCC was spotted with a cigarette in hand and few seemed especially put out by the results.

Minutes after their win, as Rahul Dravid, John Stephenson and Dale Benkenstein, ex-internationals of varying accomplishment stood around for post-match press conferences, some players from the Fly Emirates XI joined the scrum of reporters to take photographs. An autograph might even have been sneaked in.

The local side's amateur status, however, should not imply be assumed to equate to a lack of quality, particularly in the shortest format of the game where the gap in skills is reduced considerably.

Though they are composed only of airline staff, they also have three players who are regulars with the UAE national team. One of them, the towering Arshad Ali, was the architect of the semi-final win, with two wickets complemented by a powerful 41.

They also won the inaugural edition of this tournament in 2010, beating South Africa's Cape Cobras in the final.

They were also the only team to break the party line on Thursday and talk openly about wanting to win this: participation was great, but silverware even better, said Muljiani.

Even the atmosphere - think early season English festival game (but sunnier weather) with a small but committed crowd, populating grassy banks, the smell of barbecue wafting lazily in and around them - seemed in their favour.

But that, and the side's spirit, was not quite enough to see them through in the final, though beating a Lancashire side of hardened county pros and ex-internationals will, as the days and years go by, remain a special highlight for them.

The Sussex Sharks had been clinical in their dismissal of the MCC in the other semi-final and were so again.

Muljiani was still involved - and thus, tense enough - to require an continuing massage to ease the tension and muscles through the Sharks' innings.

But as they faltered first in the field and then in their chase, the players loosened up and in a role reversal looked much like the relaxed professionals they themselves had beaten earlier in the day.

"We took away everything except the trophy," captain Nigel Fernandes said, a neat summation of their day.


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