x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

UAE wait to know World Cup 2015 fate after thrashing Namibia

The local heroes must now wait for the failure of Afghanistan whom they have afforded hospitality to climb up the world ladder.

Rohan Mustafa, centre, took three wickets as Namibia capitulated against UAE at Sharjah Cricket Stadium. Satish Kumar / The National
Rohan Mustafa, centre, took three wickets as Namibia capitulated against UAE at Sharjah Cricket Stadium. Satish Kumar / The National

SHARJAH // When Nasir Aziz took the final wicket to set the seal on a second crushing UAE victory over Namibia in the space of three days, celebrations were surprisingly muted.

The have-a-go heroes of the national team, who will each be back at their office desks this morning, patted each other on the back, and said well done to one another.

A casual observer would never have guessed they were on the brink of reaching a goal they have hungered for all their lives – a place on cricket’s biggest stage, the 2015 World Cup. There is still a little bit left to run in this tale.

Just as they were vacating the playing field, Afghanistan’s cricketers were lining the boundary preparing for one of their final practices before their own qualification finale.

Almost immediately, half of the floodlights at Sharjah Cricket Stadium went out.

It was as if the ground’s authorities were saying: “Right, Afghanistan, we have done all we can to accommodate you – now things are getting a little serious.”

In the best tradition of Arabian hospitality, they have given their ground to the Afghans, who are unable to host matches in their homeland, for the duration of the World Cup qualifying competition.

Now the Afghans are the only side who can stop the UAE from qualifying automatically for the tournament in Australia and New Zealand.

Win against Kenya twice, on Wednesday and Friday, and Afghanistan will advance. Lose either, and the perennial bridesmaid’s from the UAE will be bound for Down Under.

“We are praying for a Kenya win, and if it happens, I think it will be a very big achievement for UAE cricket,” said Rohan Mustafa, the UAE’s youngest player.

The task facing Afghanistan has not changed. They needed to win both, anyway. Kabir Khan, the coach, started this qualifying league in charge of the UAE team before changing allegiance to Afghanistan.

As he prepared to lead his charges through a vigorous training session on the dimly lit Sharjah outfield last night, he said their equation was not altered.

“This result does not affect what we need to do, so there is no added pressure,” he said.

“Either way, it is good for our region that a side from here will be going to the World Cup.”

A team from the region. A team from Asia. A team from Sharjah. A team once coached by Kabir – who recommended the new coach, Aaqib Javed, for the position. Sometimes you forget who you are supposed to be supporting around these parts.

For some, though, a shot at the big time has been hard won. Khurram Khan has carried UAE cricket on his shoulders for much of the past decade, and the captain is delighted his side are still in with a shout of automatic qualification.

“When you start off, you always think you have a good enough team to succeed,” Khurram said.

“You can look back and have regrets that there were a few matches when we didn’t do well or play to our potential, but now we are in a situation where we will have to wait and see what happens.

“It is a relief that we have managed to do our part, and it is a great achievement by a side of fully amateur players, who all have day jobs to go to.”

Khurram paid tribute to Mustafa, who played a crucial role with the bat in hauling UAE to a competitive total, then took three crucial wickets with the ball.

“Rohan Mustafa is a fantastically talented cricketer,” Khurram said.

pradley@thenational.ae