x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The chance to steal the limelight

First the Afghans took the UAE's status as the continent's best side – outside of the big four Test nations.

UAE’s Shadeep Silva, second left, celebrates.
UAE’s Shadeep Silva, second left, celebrates.

Given the wider problems in the world beyond the boundary, it is glib to suggest there has been a turf war going on between the UAE and Afghanistan in recent years.

But within the confines of the glorious distraction that is cricket, the rivalry that has emerged between the two nations has been unquestionable.

Time was, the UAE were out on their own in Asia among the countries who operate beyond the Test game. Then the Afghanistan Cricket fairy tale emerged from the ravages of war.

First the Afghans took the UAE's status as the continent's best side - outside of the big four Test nations.

Then they took the ACC Trophy which for so many years had seemed to be UAE cricket's own private plaything.

And the Afghans even took the idea of muscling in on opposition territory literally. They play their "home" international matches at Sharjah Cricket Stadium, at the generosity of the ground's owners while the security situation precludes touring sides from going there.

UAE cricket had not exactly stood still, but it was still taken over. And by taken over, read barged out of the way like an impatient, light-flashing 4x4 driver in the outside lane of the Sheikh Zayed Road. Afghanistan have been to major ICC competitions twice. The current generation of UAE cricketers, meanwhile, have had to look on with envy.

"When we see them playing [at major tournaments like the World Twenty20], we are not against them because we see them as another Asian team going forward," said Ahmed Raza, the UAE spinner.

"But when we see ourselves not going through, even though we are beating them every time, it really is heartbreaking."

The UAE are not done yet, though. Not by a long stretch. Conquer Nepal on home soil today, and they will have their ACC Trophy back for the first time in three attempts.

And, thanks in no small part to two wins over the Afghans last year, they are in good shape in the ongoing qualifying competition for the next 50-over World Cup.

It is understandable that Afghanistan have hogged the limelight at this level of cricket in recent years, given the back story, the huge potential for the game there, as well as their extraordinary exploits on the field.

But today could mark the latest phase in the re-emergence of Asian cricket's original - if lapsed - emerging nation.