x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Saqib spins UAE to the brink

The UAE's versatile all-rounder helps inspire a priceless five-wicket win over Canada in Krugersdorp.

KRUGERSDORP // Saqib Ali presented graphic evidence that pure class is not confined to the Test arena as he inspired the UAE to a priceless five-wicket win over Canada at the Stan Friedman Oval yesterday. If life had worked out a little differently, Saqib might have been representing the land of his birth, Pakistan, in Dubai next week. He attended the same training camps for emerging Pakistani players as many of the side visiting the UAE, including Shoaib Akhtar. However, his personal circumstances led him to leave for a new life in Abu Dhabi. Now he has taken his adopted country to the brink of qualifying for the World Cup, a stage that certainly befits his talent. He contributed 37 to the UAE's run-chase against the Canadians, but it was with the ball that he really made the difference, turning the match with three wickets. Saqib's importance to the UAE batting line-up is well known, yet his bowling has rarely warranted a mention before. In recent times, he has been little more than an occasional off-spinner for the national team. That is probably more of a comment on the depth of talent in the UAE's slow-bowling department. Ten bowlers, as they had on the field yesterday, does not go that easily into 50 overs, but Khurram Khan, who is tasked with juggling them all, would far prefer it that way than the other. Saqib chose the previous outing, when they lost out to Ireland, to remind everyone of his talent with the ball. There was enough evidence then to suggested he warranted a longer go, and Khurram did not need a second invitation, bringing him on as early the 18th over against Canada. Saqib is a versatile bowler, capable of bowling seam up and he had success with his quicker-ball when he dismissed Sandeep Jyoti yesterday. Fayyaz Ahmed may not have had just reward in the wickets column, but his spell of one for 28 from his 10 overs turned the game back towards the UAE early in the piece. He applied the brakes after Rizwan Cheema (20), the free-spirited Canada opener, and Geoff Barnett (30), who has played first-class cricket in New Zealand, got the innings off to a flyer. Khurram himself picked up two for 23. Saqib assisted by pouching two catches off Khurram's bowling, one of them a fine effort tumbling forward at short-extra cover. A pitch suiting the UAE's spinners has been a long time in coming. Colin Wells, the coach, predicted in advance of the competition that worn pitches would assist his spinners. After a season of Xhosa Cricket Club matches, as well as six previous Qualifier ties, his prediction was proved correct in Krugersdorp. However, the Canadians are not novices at slow-bowling either. Their left-armer, Sunil Dhaniram, counted Kevin Pietersen among his victims at the 2007 World Cup. By the time he was introduced the UAE's top order had already feasted on the medium-pacers of Canada.

They passed 50 midway through the eighth over in thrilling fashion, with Amjad Javed following up a trademark one-bounce four over point with a six straight over the sight-screen. More vintage Javed followed two balls later when he hoisted the same bowler, the military medium-pacer Rizwan Cheema, into the next field for another six. After he and Nithin Gopal, who provided another neat cameo worth 37, departed, it was left to the skipper Khurram (53) to take his side to glory.