The store-keepers and students who make up the UAE cricket team are one game away from rubbing shoulders with the sport's elite.
Judgement day for the UAE
JOHANNESBURG // The technicians, store-keepers, flight pursers and students who make up the UAE cricket team are one game away from rubbing shoulders with the sport's most recognisable stars on the biggest stage of all. If the national team beat Scotland at the ICC World Cup Qualifier in Benoni today, they could earn one of the four coveted places on offer to play at cricket's flagship event in 2011.
The top four countries will also pick up additional funding from the sport's Dubai-based governing body, which could run into millions of dirhams. It will be a tough task for the national team, who are made up exclusively of highly talented part-time players. Scotland have three centrally contracted professionals in their ranks, as well as the one-time England Test player, Gavin Hamilton. However, they are unlikely to be cowed by the prospect. They reached this position after thrashing Canada on Wednesday, who were until then at the top of the tournament's standings.
Qualification would be particularly sweet for the team's manager, Mohammed Lokhandwala. The Dubai Cricket Council administrator missed out on playing at the 1996 World Cup, the only previous occasion when the UAE qualified, after just missing the cut for the final squad. The former Air India club all-rounder said: "The boys have done very well. All they have to do now is concentrate on one victory in the last game. Then I hope God is smiling on us and we can see it through."
The national team have been dragged to the brink of qualification thanks to the fine form of Saqib Ali. The Multan-born all-rounder once looked destined to represent his native Pakistan in international cricket, before he moved to Abu Dhabi, where he now works for the New Medical Centre. "The pressure is on," said Saqib, who took three wickets in the shock victory over Canada. "We have already played against top sides like Canada and Ireland. We just need to keep the game simple and try our best and hope we can carry on in this form."
Colin Wells, the former England player who is the team's head coach, added: "I am hoping a few of the boys click together, because if we do we can beat anyone on our day, as we proved against Canada. If we beat Scotland, we could be in any one of several positions." The UAE must beat Scotland in Benoni, and hope that either Kenya lose to Ireland or the Netherlands lose to Canada in today's other matches.
Lokhandwala added: "The team are right on fringe of qualifying. If we win, I feel we will most certainly make it into the top four, because the other teams are playing against stronger sides." email@example.com More build-up to the UAE v Scotland, s6-7