x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Saqib takes it on the chin to give UAE hope

Saqib Ali is a feisty enough cricketer as it is. Getting a ball in the face from close range during catching practice to fire him up even more is really not necessary.

Khurram Khan, the UAE captain, right, hopes to be celebrating World Cup qualification today when his side play Scotland.
Khurram Khan, the UAE captain, right, hopes to be celebrating World Cup qualification today when his side play Scotland.

JOHANNESBURG // Saqib Ali is a feisty enough cricketer as it is. Getting a ball in the face from close range during catching practice to fire him up even more is really not necessary. That is what happened as the UAE warmed-up during the lunch interval in their Super Eight tie with Ireland on Monday.

During the course of a close-catching drill, his cheekbone felt the force of a sharp chance. From that point on, he has performed like a player possessed. The game was all but lost at the time, but Saqib angrily railed against the inevitable. Next time out, he virtually hauled his side to victory against Canada through force of personality alone. His captain, Khurram Khan, tossed him the ball in the 18th over, as the UAE had just started to peg back the Canadians after a blistering start to the innings.

Saqib, 31, has only turned his arm over occasionally for the national team in the recent past, yet he proceeded to take three wickets which spun the game his side's way. He later added two smart catches off Khurram's bowling. Then, in alliance with his captain, who made a chanceless unbeaten half-century, he laid the platform for victory with the bat. "Saqib was absolutely outstanding," said the coach, Colin Wells. "His figures show that: three for 20 off 10 overs is unbelievable bowling. The captain gave him his chance. If he feels like someone should bowl they bowl, if they bowl well they stay on, if they don't they come off.

"The whole team knows we need to find two bowlers to give us some control. We had that [against Canada]. "Saqib plays his cricket with great passion and verve, and I like that in him. He is a great fighter when the chips are down, and when he gets on top he really makes the opposition suffer." Saqib, who originates from Inzamam-ul-Haq's home city of Multan, is a multi-talented cricketer. During some of the warm-up matches the UAE played before leaving for Gauteng, he bowled seamers "because I thought the track was hard and might seam a little".

As evidence of his versatility, he slipped seamlessly back into off-spin mode as the pitch at the Stan Friedman Oval in Krugersdorp demanded. "What we had here was a low and turning track, so I came back to my normal bowling style," he reasoned. Saqib has been forced to wait his turn for a go with the ball. This UAE team consist of 10 bowlers, so he is not complaining. "It is always up to the skipper, and if he calls on me I will try my best," he added.

"Everyone in the team can bowl and bat. We always have another option for someone who can take a wicket or dry up the runs. "I was a bit surprised to get the chance to bowl, and with how well I did. But it was a good pitch to bowl on, it was turning a little, and helped the bowlers." @Email:pradley@thenational.ae