x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Promising young UAE cricket team will take on older opponents in Asian tournament

The UAE's Under 19 cricket team will be at a decided age disadvantage when they compete in a tournament in Thailand this week.

The UAE's Under 19 cricket team will be at a decided age disadvantage when they compete in a tournament in Thailand this week.

The UAE will take players as young as 15 to the 10-team tournament, the Under 19 Asian Cricket Council Elite Cup, which begins today. The finalists will advance to the U19 World Cup 2012 qualifier later in the year.

Because the government requires expatriate boys to get their own visa once they turn 18, many young men leave the country when they reach that age. That leaves team organisers with no choice but to select younger players for international competitions.

"I would expect [other teams] to be more mature and have stronger players," Kabir Khan, the UAE coach, said.

"Ours is a virtually Under 17 team and it would be interesting to see how they react to play against older players."

Kabir spent two months preparing the squad, playing them against Bermuda, Afghanistan A and some local clubs to expose the players to older and stronger opponents.

"There is definitely a lot of improvement since I first started working with them. They have shown a lot of promise against mature players in the warm-up matches," he said.

"That's the kind of opposition we may have to face and the plan was to provide them with playing opportunities against stronger teams for them to prepare both mentally and physically.

"I was pleased with their performance in the two games against Bermuda and with Afghanistan A. We lost but they were very close games."

They lost to Afghanistan A by 52 and 19 runs and were beaten by Bermuda by five wickets and 29 runs.

Kabir, who is on a one-year contract with the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB), also coached the UAE three years ago. He then took charge of Afghanistan, guiding them to official one-day status in 2009, qualification to the Twenty20 World Cup last year and third place in the World Cricket League Division One. He quit the post after a dispute with their board.

"I am aware of the UAE's rules and the realities, but that doesn't hinder my work as a coach. I work with those players available to me," he said.

The ECB gave me a free hand to select a squad and I feel we have a decent team in place."

Mazhar Khan, the ECB administrator, said school cricket has been played for nearly two decades in Dubai and Sharjah, and some of the schools have facilities to train and play matches.

"Not every school has a playing field but most of them have the basic facilities to practice," said Mazhar, a native from Hyderabad who has been in the UAE for more than 35 years.

"We lose over 40 per cent of the players because of the age rule, yet it's heartening to note a majority of the good cricketers who come through the age group are those born in the UAE.

"A majority of the players in the senior team are those born in the UAE.

"A lot of players leave before they turn 18 for higher studies abroad or go back to their own countries but we can't bring them back and deprive those who remain in the country or the new players that emerge from the domestic system."

Locally, the sport remains the domain of the expatriates, particularly from the Asian subcontinent.

Emirati players competing in the Gulf Cup - a relatively new competition for Arab nationals from the UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait - are below the level required for selection for the national team. But Kabir believes it is a positive step forward, and that it helps to introduce Emiratis to cricket in schools.

"I saw a lot of Emiratis cheering the team [at the Gulf Cup] and that's not something we see when the UAE team play," Kabir said. "We must use such events to get them involved in the sport at every level but nothing could be better than schools cricket."

Schools cricket was introduced in Abu Dhabi for the first time last year with the staging of the U14 and U16 competitions. The Abu Dhabi Cricket Council has added an open age group and competitions are in progress.

Mazhar said initiatives and facilities like the International Cricket Council Global Cricket Academy and the MCC-Zayed Cricket Academy can help attract young Emiratis to the sport.

apassela@thenational.ae