Boost for UAE cricket after national team qualify for ICC T20 World Cup

Boost for UAE cricket after national team qualify for ICC T20 World Cup

In last week’s final of the International Cricket Council Men’s T20 World Cup 2022 Qualifying Tournament in Oman, the United Arab Emirates beat Ireland.

Since, by virtue of winning their semi-finals two days earlier, both teams had qualified for the final in Australia, one could say that this was a meaningless game. However, besides the prestige of becoming the winner of the tournament, the result contributes to future ICC rankings.

The other significance of the match was the UAE’s margin of victory. It was by eight wickets, Muhammad Waseem scoring 112 runs, after his 70 in the semi-final.

Waseem was scouted in 2017 while playing in Lahore and accepted the offer of a residency visa to join a business in Dubai. He became eligible to represent the United Arab Emirates in April, after fulfilling his three-year residency requirement, under ICC rules.

Under these rules, a player can participate in an international match or an ICC event for a national cricket federation when at least one of the three criteria is met. These require the player to be born in the country, able to demonstrate that he was a national of the country or had been a resident of the country for the three years immediately preceding the filing of a bid.

In the team that beat Ireland in the final, six players were born in Pakistan and four in India, having arrived in the United Arab Emirates at different stages of their lives. Only the captain was born in the Emirates. Qualification for the ICC T20 World Cup represents a dramatic turnaround in fortunes for UAE cricket, which failed to qualify for the 2019 tournament, in which the team collapsed.

This was caused by the revelation of match fixing by some of the players. Three players, including the captain, were suspended before the tournament on suspicion of corrupt conduct, which involved trying to influence the outcome of a match in exchange for money provided by an Indian bookmaker.

In March 2021, after investigation by the ICC, two of them received an eight-year ban from gambling and one a five-year ban. Two others were later suspended on suspicion of trying to influence the course of a qualifying game and others of doing the same in matches between the United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands and the Zimbabwe. In April and July, five- and eight-year bans were imposed on these players.

The amount of money involved seemed quite small, around $4,000. This must be placed in the context of the players’ part-time status as cricketers, under which they had to juggle their professional commitments with their cricket. A number of them played for their company’s team in national competitions and depended on the company providing time off to allow for national team participation.

Given the suspensions of key players and the impact on morale, it’s no wonder the team failed in their bid for 2019 qualification. The recovery from this low point has been amazing.

A change in selection policy saw the introduction of young players. An example is the wicket-keeper batsman, Vriitya Aravind. The 19-year-old still attending school in Dubai was called up to the 2019 T20 World Cup qualifying squad to replace the former wicketkeeper who fled during the tournament. Aravind’s progress since that time has been stellar.

In this year’s ICC T20 World Cup qualifying tournament, the United Arab Emirates were beaten by Bahrain in the group stage. This meant that each team had two wins and equal points, but the United Arab Emirates moved up on the net run rate. Chasing 173 to win, the UAE needed to reach 158 in order to achieve a top net run rate. This target was reduced to 32 races required from 16 deliveries, then 12 from the final.

This was achieved, quite sensationally by Aravind as, with wickets falling steadily at the other end, he beat a run of six to not only reach 158 but to bring his team within two innings of victory .

There are more young talents available to coaches. Besides Aravind, who is currently studying in the UK, there are two others, who played for the national team, who are doing the same.

Previously, only players living and playing their cricket in the United Arab Emirates were considered for selection. This is no longer the case and young players who go abroad to study may no longer be lost to UAE cricket. It is further hoped that there will be progression to the senior team by the Under-19 players who won the U19 World Cup plate competition on January 31.

Another notable development was the Emirates Cricket Board’s decision in December 2020 to expand the number of central contracts to 20, split equally between full-time and part-time. Seven of those have been awarded to players aged 22 or younger.

Young players were also part of the UAE women’s team which won all five matches in the Asian qualifying group in November. In the final match against Nepal, 14-year-old Samaira Dharnidharka kicked a four overs in which she won four wickets and conceded just five runs.

These victories earned the UAE a place in the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup Global Qualifiers which will determine the remaining places for the final of the competition to be held in South Africa in February 2023.

As a result, UAE cricket is making its presence felt on three fronts, internationally. The shock surrounding the suspension and banning of seven experienced national team players between October 2019 and December 2021 has been addressed.

The Emirates Cricket Board and the players have shown impressive resilience to emerge from the crisis. A new set of selection policies and a faith in youth have earned the right to be launched on the world stage against the world’s best teams in October.