x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Saqib shows class is permanent

The UAE's ACC Trophy final defeat to Hong Kong was not entirely gloom-laden as Saqib Ali made an overdue return to his best.

Saqib Ali's 102 was the bedrock of the UAE innings.
Saqib Ali's 102 was the bedrock of the UAE innings.

KUALA LUMPUR // The UAE's ACC Trophy final defeat to Hong Kong was not entirely gloom-laden. They may have ceded their title as the best non-Test side in Asia for the first time in eight years, but at least Saqib Ali made an overdue return to his best. The former Pakistan under-19 team player is regarded as one of the country's finest batsmen, but he has suffered a fallow run in recent times.

Lesser players might have succumbed to a crisis of confidence given Saqib's circumstances. He lost the captaincy before the tour to Malaysia on the basis of two hefty losses to Test opposition in the Asia Cup in Lahore in June. The coach, Vasbert Drakes, and the new captain, Khurram Khan, both predicted the change in situation would prompt an immediate return to form for one of the UAE's premier batsman.

It did not happen. Saqib's lean run with the willow continued at the start of the ACC Trophy. It is often said that an ailing batsman only needs one ball to get back into form. In Saqib's case, the whole of the ninth over of the final announced his return in the most resounding fashion. The champions were struggling at the time, teetering on the brink of total collapse at 32-3. Saqib cut the third ball loosely through point for four. He went after the next ball and connected sweetly, this time clearing the point boundary on the full.

He saved the very best for last, powering the sixth delivery classically through mid-off for four. It was just the spark Saqib - and the UAE - needed. He dovetailed smartly with his skipper at the other end. When Khurram eventually fell for 56, with the score on 158, the duo had put on 144 for the fourth wicket. Saqib hails from Multan, the same as Pakistan's Inzamam-ul-Haq, and he played an Inzy-esque knock against Hong Kong. Saqib Ali's serene 102 was the bedrock of the UAE total of 243-7.

After a heavy downpour revised Hong Kong's task to 203 from 36 overs, Najeeb Amar guided them to victory with a sublime 80-ball century. Drakes said: "We know he is a quality player. He came out to bat under pressure, and I thought his innings was superb. He paced it very well, and we thought that 243 on this wicket, if we could keep it tight up front, we could have squeezed Hong Kong." @Email:pradley@thenational.ae