A Golden period for UAE Cricket?
Jay Dansinghani wraps up the four biggest stories of the Oman v UAE League 2 series
2019 was arguably the darkest year for cricket in the UAE. Their Men’s T20 World Cup Qualifier campaign was rocked by a match-fixing scandal that left them without three of their best players.
However, as far as this writer is concerned, those players do not deserve any airtime.
The more compelling narrative is how the UAE men’s team has rebuilt since Ahmed Raza donned the captain’s armband in the wake of that scandal. On the back of a young women’s team advancing to the T20 World Cup Qualifier and the U-19 boys winning the Plate Final at the U-19 World Cup, Raza’s men have just scored a 2-0 series victory against League 2 table-toppers Oman — that too in their own backyard.
Remarkably, all of this has happened in the space of four months. There is every chance that we are witnessing the beginning of a golden era for UAE cricket.
For now, though, let’s focus on four talking points from the League 2 ODIs between Oman and the UAE.
The thrilling tie
On the back of Kashif Daud’s measured and resilient half-century, the UAE had somehow reduced the equation down to 3 off 1, chasing 214 against Oman in the 3rd ODI.
However, Daud had just holed out to Shoaib Khan stationed at long on.
The UAE’s players bit their nails as their fate lay in the hands of certified tail-ender Zahoor Khan.
Zahoor struck Khawar along the carpet and into the same direction that Daud had just been caught. Zahoor turned blindly. He had to.
But the throw came in flat, strong, and accurate. Non-striker Raja Akifullah was barely in the frame. Hearts were about to sink in the UAE dugout.
And then came the fumble!
Hands on knees. A frantic attempt for a third run by Akifullah saw him short of his ground. But Oman didn’t celebrate.
Neither did the UAE…
This was only the 40th tie in the 51-year history of Men’s ODI cricket. It was also just the second instance of two associate member teams tying with each other.
Unlike the Super League encounter between Zimbabwe and Pakistan in 2020, Super Overs are not part of the playing conditions for League 2.
In spite of this inconsistency, it felt good for a tie to remain a tie. It added to the allure of a contest that was already exciting given that it was played with points at stake as part of a meritocratic pathway to the World Cup.
Sadly, with the ICC announcing a reversion to ranking-based qualification for the 2027 Men’s Cricket World Cup, a similar game situation with all three results possible will not be nearly as compelling to watch in the future.
Tuesday was a stark reminder of what we will miss once this current Men’s World Cup cycle is over. After 2023, men’s ODIs will once again be glorified friendly games that only serve to influence a convoluted ranking system that can be gamed to benefit Full Members.
UAE’s versatile batting
Between February 2020 and the beginning of this series, UAE had only played 2 ODIS and 4 T20Is. That they were able to shake off the cobwebs and chase down 308 against Oman — their highest-ever run chase and team total in ODIS — is a testament to what they are capable of.
26-year-old Chirag Suri and 19-year old Vriitya Aravind were the architects of that chase with career-best scores of 115 and 89, respectively. They pummelled 60 runs between overs 28 and 33 to bring a required rate of 8.13 down to 7.47.
Basil Hameed, another member of UAE’s next-gen then walked in and bludgeoned 61 off 33 balls to close out the chase.
Chasing 196 in the second ODI, the in-form Aravind was demoted from number three to number four to accommodate CP Rizwan, whose century against Ireland last year propelled UAE to just their second win against a Test-playing nation. Rizwan shepherded the run chase yet again with an unbeaten 76 off 116.
In addition to a versatile top order, the UAE is also blessed with batting depth as evidenced by Kashif Daud’s half-century. The most impressive feature of his innings was the calculated takedown of Kaleemullah, who he carted for three sixes toward the closing stages of UAE’s run chase on a turning surface, where it wasn’t easy to get the spinners away.
The pair of victories and the tied game showed that the UAE has the personnel to pull of high-run chases on flat surfaces and get over the line on slower surfaces that require patience and composure.
In spite of the fact that Muhammad Waseem, arguably their best batter, didn’t fire in any of the three games, someone always put their hand up whether they needed quick runs, a stable partnership, or a heroic rescue act.
Bowling options for Raza
It’s a Kashif Daud world, and we’re all just living in it. In addition to his pyrotechnics, Daud played a pivotal role in the Powerplay where he kept the dangerous duo of Kashyap Prajapati and Jatinder Singh in check. Across the series, he bowled 13 overs in the Powerplay and only conceded 45 runs, picking up a wicket in the process.
To complement Daud’s accuracy, skipper Ahmed Raza had the luxury of calling on the raw pace of Zahoor Khan as a middle overs enforcer. To make things trickier for opposition batters, Zahoor was also able to generate extravagant movement throughout the tournament coupled with variations, which served him well at the death.
As if that weren’t enough, left-arm Raza and off-spinner Rohan Mustafa (who is also known for his prowess in the death overs) came into their own in the middle overs as surfaces slowed down toward the second half of the series.
When Shoaib Khan got the better of Mustafa in the 2nd ODI, Basil Hameed was introduced into the attack and bowled the spell of the tournament, taking 5-17 to restrict Oman to 196 when they would have been eyeing a target of around 250. Hameed’s returns with the ball, much like Daud’s returns with the bat, allowed the UAE to bat deep throughout the series while retaining six bowling options.
Oman’s batting order
As League 2 table-toppers, Oman would have been disappointed not to win a single game in the series. They were unfortunate to be without the services of Aqib Ilyas, their most complete batter and League 2’s leading run-scorer, but they arguably didn’t make the best use of their batting resources.
Khawar Ali, who batted at nine at the T20 World Cup owing to a tennis elbow injury that hampered his strokeplay, opened in Oman’s first two games. It was hard to tell if his injury was still impacting him as he hardly played any shots to begin with. His 5 off 30 in the second ODI featured one boundary, one single, and 28 dot balls. At no point in his innings did he attempt to play an aerial shot, which is tantamount to blasphemy when the field is up in the Powerplay.
Skipper Zeeshan Maqsood is known as a busy player who maintains a low dot ball percentage. He’s made for the middle overs, yet he curiously batted at six and seven, respectively in the first two games. To his credit, he promoted himself up to number four and Prajapati up to open in the last ODI, where both batters posted their highest scores of the series.
However, Maqsood continues to deploy Naseem Khushi, his most dangerous finisher, at eight. Had it not been for Khushi’s 42 (21) in the first ODI, Oman would have likely registered a score of around 290 instead of the 307 they eventually managed. It was a similar story in the third ODI, where Khushi’s 33 (22) propelled Oman to 214 instead of a likely total of around 195. Over the years, Khushi has played numerous high-impact cameos. Perhaps it’s time for Oman to be more aggressive with how they use him.
Then again, perhaps we are being too harsh on Maqsood’s men. After all, they did lose each of the three tosses during the series. Perhaps we’re being too harsh on Khawar Ali. He is undoubtedly one of the finest cricketers Oman has ever produced.
It would take a brave soul to bet against him bouncing back.
Come to think of it, the same can be said about this Omani unit.
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