Khurram Khan ‘is going to be very difficult to replace’ for UAE ahead of World Twenty20 qualifiers
These are weird times for the cricketers of the UAE national team.
For the first time most of them will be able to remember, they are heading into a major competition without their most reliable player – the player everyone looked to for runs, wickets, general excellence and even paternal guidance.
It could be the making of them.
When the odds are stacked against them, they will no longer be able to leave it to Khurram Khan to bail them out.
Somebody else is going to have to take the responsibility on themselves. Each of them should be thinking: why not me?
The post-Khurram era starts properly on Thursday when the UAE face the hosts Scotland in the opening fixture of the World Twenty20 qualifier in Edinburgh.
The national team have hardly been a one-man team for the past 14 years. Far from it. But it is difficult to think of a player from any side among the top 14 in the world who has maintained such an influence over his side for so long.
Even Aaqib Javed, the perennially upbeat UAE coach, acknowledged there is a gaping void in the team now.
“We are going to miss him,” Aaqib said. “The way he performed for UAE was outstanding. He was a leader; the captain, but also as the person who would lead from the front with his performance and his attitude. He was a true leader.
“He is going to be very difficult to replace and it is going to take time. It is tough. If you look at associate cricket, it is hard to find many Khurrams. This is how life is.
“Everybody was always looking up to him to try to compete with him. He was a wonderful person. Even though he was 43, that killer instinct was still there. He still wanted to fight and compete with the youngsters.”
In the days after announcing his retirement, Khurram still attended nets. Force of habit, presumably.
Breaking the routine of more than a decade is tough to do, especially when there is the add-on of giving coaching tips too.
Khurram’s influence on the national team’s players will be felt for some time yet.
“One thing that is going to be really hard, will be missing your mates,” Khurram said.
“You are always with them; at the match, at nets, travelling together and being part of the team, it is going to be very hard being away from that.
“It will be hard not being able to pull these colours on again to play for the UAE.”
A while back, the national team began a contingency for Khurram’s departure when Ahmed Raza was handed the captaincy reins of a young side, missing many of its key players, for a series in Kuwait in 2013.
The role suited a player who, though a Pakistani national, was born in the UAE, lived here his entire life and regards only this country as home.
Raza generally showed up well whenever he was handed the leadership role.
Succession planning was muddied, though, when Mohammed Tauqir, the Emirati off-spinner, returned to playing last year and was handed the captaincy in Khurram’s place for the 50-over World Cup this year.
Tauqir performed admirably in Australia and New Zealand. That much was predictable enough: his feats in the grey of the national team compare favourably with anyone – bar Khurram – in the country’s cricket history.
It does, though, feel as if the future is on pause. At 43, Tauqir is just half a year younger than Khurram. His career may be enjoying an Indian summer, but that could change quickly
The general age of the national team as a whole should be a worry. For the recent Intercontinental Cup tie in Ireland the average age of the team was an ancient 35.
Aaqib, though, is less concerned about the ageing limbs when it comes to the 20-over format.
Despite popular wisdom to the contrary, Twenty20 can be an old man’s game. The number of former greats who have played on, and thrived, in the Indian Premier League qualifies that fact.
“In T20 we should do well,” the coach said. “We have to move forward. We still have a good experienced batting line up. The first target is to qualify. That is the basic requirement.”
World Twenty20 qualifier information
Six of the 14 teams from the competition taking place in Ireland and Scotland this month will qualify for the first round of the World Twenty20 in India next year.
Group A: Ireland, Nepal, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Namibia, United States, Jersey
Group B: Afghanistan, UAE, Netherlands, Scotland, Canada, Kenya, Oman
Thursday v Scotland, Edinburgh
Friday Afghanistan, Edinburgh
Sunday v Netherlands, Edinburgh
July 14, v Canada, Stirling
July 15, v Kenya, Edinburgh
July 17, v Oman, Stirling
Play-offs begin on July 21 in Dublin. The final is on July 26.
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Updated: July 8, 2015 04:00 AM