Zimbabwe win puts UAE cricket back on the map but ICC need 10-team World Cup rethink

Denzil Pinto 18:58 23/03/2018
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Captain Marvel: Rohan Mustafa (l)

On Thursday evening, just after 20:00, the UAE national team were celebrating another victory. But it was no ordinary win by any means. It was a historic one. They had just beaten a Test nation for the first time – in all formats – following their three-run victory over Zimbabwe in the World Cup Qualifier Super Six stage.

Prior to their final group game in Harare, the UAE had never come out on top against a full member in an ODI. Zimbabwe defeated them in their last meeting at the 2015 World Cup and since 1994, the UAE have lost all encounters to England (once), India (three times), New Zealand (once), Pakistan (three times), South Africa, (twice), Sri Lanka (twice) and West Indies (twice).

On paper, there only seemed one clear winner. The equation was simple for Zimbabwe. Beat the UAE and they would join West Indies in the 2019 World Cup. With ODI status secured until 2022 and already eliminated, the UAE had nothing but pride to play for – but obviously they never read the script.

In a televised match that was beamed to all corners of the globe, it was a chance for them to show the world what they are made of. In the last 18 months they have been showing signs of returning to the formidable Associate nation that they once were, but their rise has rarely been discussed in world cricket. When the chance came, they grabbed that opportunity with both hands.

Mohammad Naveed (3-40 and 22 off 10 runs) showed the glimpses of his potential that has seen him reach 10th in the T20I bowling rankings while skipper Rohan Mustafa proved once again how vital he is with the bat and ball.

Rameez Shahzad returned to the line-up from illness and hit 59 runs while Ghulam Shabbir and Shaiman Anwar played crucial cameo roles. You could see what it meant to the UAE when Naveed pumped his fists in the air after bowling the final ball for two when Zimbabwe needed six runs.

Zimbabwe might not be one of the strongest Test nations but try telling that to the UAE players who had to battle right to the end against an in-form side that had topped their group and defeated a much-fancied Afghanistan team on the way. It was another milestone for UAE cricket and one that has sent out a message to the rest of the world that they are certainly no pushovers.

Head coach Dougie Brown underlined the significance of the result when he tweeted: “Days like today you remember forever! You’re a special group of players @EmiratesCricket #CWCQ18”. Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) member Zayed Abbas also congratulated the national team in a special video message on social media at Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium.

It’s not clear when the UAE will play next but the core of this competitive side will only improve under the guidance of Brown. After ending the tournament on a high, it’s a massive disappointment that they and other nations will not have a chance to showcase their talent on the world stage in England next May.

The ICC’s decision to reduce the World Cup to 10 teams has been strongly criticised and the performances from the ‘minnows’ over the last two weeks in Zimbabwe hasn’t done them any favours.

With just two teams qualifying from the event, the likes of Scotland, Nepal and the UAE already had their work cut out before a ball was even bowled. Scotland will fly back knowing their dreams of reaching their second successive World Cup were dashed in the cruellest of fashions due to rain in their clash against the West Indies while Zimbabwe will have to reflect missing out on the World Cup for the first time since 1987. For Ireland, they were beaten to the last spot by Afghanistan in a winner-takes-all match.

The last fortnight has proved there is a strong depth of talent across all teams, who deserve to have their quality displayed on the biggest stage. It wasn’t just the likes of Mustafa, Naveed and Shahzad to impress, but Scotland’s Safyaan Sharif (15 wickets), Zimbabwe’s Sikandar Raza (196 runs and 12 wickets), and Hong Kong’s veteran spinner Ehsan Khan (11 wickets) were among those who stood up. That’s not to mention young Nepalese bowling sensation Sandeep Lamichhane, who is IPL-bound next month.

ICC chief executive David Richardson will again have to defend the idea of having a 10-team World Cup in the lead-up to the tournament. Back in 2015, he stated: “We have to make sure we don’t put Associate members into tournaments just for window dressing.” Judging by the performances we’ve seen in Zimbabwe, Associate nations could have provided a window into the future. One that sadly we will not see.

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