Back in November, just prior to their five-match 50-over series against Zimbabwe ‘A’ in Dubai, UAE head coach Dougie Brown stated his team were entering their ‘most crucial’ season in history.
His words came on the back of a 2017 in which the UAE started off struggling for form before finding a couple of extra gears to secure 19 victories in 24 matches across formats.
Netherlands, Papua New Guinea and Oman were all beaten leading up to the on-going ICC World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe.
It’s easy to see why Brown labeled this season as their most important ever. Not only could they reach their third World Cup but more significantly retain their ODI status. It’s something that they had achieved four years ago when they booked their ticket in the same qualifying tournament to the 2015 World Cup in New Zealand and Australia. But they had to battle to keep their place.
Fast forward to today and despite their 226-run defeat to Ireland in their final World Cup Qualifier group game on Monday, the UAE cricketers woke up on Tuesday knowing that their dreams (although slim) of playing with the big boys is alive with a World Cup Qualifier Super Six qualification. But more importantly, they know they will still be representing an ODI nation until 2022.
Retaining their status has been nothing short than a rollercoaster ride. They have had to do it the hard way. Following their relegation from the World Cricket League Championship in which they lost nine of their 13 matches during the 2015-17 edition, they were given another opportunity to keep their ODI status with February’s World Cricket League Division Two in Namibia.
On paper, they were the favourites but after two defeats, the UAE were on the verge of missing out on reaching the World Cup Qualifier and thereby losing their ODI status. But when the pressure was on, they delivered to get the two wins over Namibia and Oman before ending the tournament as champions.
Losing their ODI status would have dealt a big blow to the UAE and their cricket development. For the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB), it’s a lot more than being just being an ODI member, it is the funding from the International Cricket Council (ICC) that comes with it. You only have to look at the previous four years to get an idea of how crucial the ICC’s help is to cricket in the UAE.
When they qualified for the 2015 World Cup, the UAE side was just a bunch of part-time cricketers who would train in the evenings after their day jobs. Now that’s no longer the case. In July 2016, the ECB announced their first-ever central contracts with 12 players selected on full-time and part-time basis.
Players can now call themselves professional cricketers and just like any other sport, train regularly five days a week under the guidance of UAE coaching staff. That number is set to increase with ECB board member Zayed Abbas confirming there will be new additions to their roster following their latest achievement. Having more contracted players will only help the national team as healthy competition will help coach Brown create a competitive unit.
As well as linking up with the ICC Academy High Performance Programme, where players have access to world-class facilities, the ECB have taken a number of initiatives in developing the game outside the senior national team.
The Inter-emirate tournament has been a big success since it was launched in 2015. Used as a platform to identify new talent, the ECB have picked their Under-16 and U-19 teams from the annual competition where players from four Emirates – Ajman, Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi – go head-to-head every year.
It has taken time but the ECB are beginning to yield the rewards with their Under-19 side reaching the Asia Cup in October, while the U-16s reigned supreme in the Asian Cricket Council’s Western Region tournament in January. There are plans to expand the tournament with ladies and men’s events, allowing for domestic players to get noticed by the ECB selectors.
The ECB are definitely going in the right direction in developing the game across the nation and the ICC funding will go a long way in achieving those objectives.
Greater tests await for the senior team over the next four years but for now, it’s time to laud Brown and his team for delivering another special result for UAE cricket.
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