Asia Cup Qualifier: Dougie Brown lauds UAE for learning to handle pressure after nervy win over Oman
Seeing how far flung some of the destinations the UAE have travelled to for competitive cricket have been this year, following them can be an expensive exercise for supporters.
And, given the side’s penchant for a nerve-shredding finish, it must not be particularly good for the health of said fans, either.
At least Umar Shah and Kashif Nisar, two followers who travelled to Harare to watch the national team earlier this year and are now in Malaysia doing similar, know they are close to reward for their loyalty.
If their team win against Hong Kong in the Asia Cup Qualifier final on Thursday, the next trip Umar and Kashif will have to make will be down the road from home to the Dubai International Stadium. And the opposition will be the eminently recognisable stars of India and Pakistan instead.
The national team made it to the final of the Asia Cup Qualifier after a 13-run success in their must-win pool match against Oman. It was the second time this year they have beaten their Gulf neighbours while defending a low total with plenty on the line.
The first time, the players’ jobs were depending on the result. This time, the prize was merely the chance to play for a place against the continent’s cricket elite in the Asia Cup proper.
“Sweaty palms,” Umar said of his response to the UAE’s nervy defence of their total. Which is pretty tame, but then he is probably getting used to such finishes.
“Regarding pressure, it is worse being off the field,” UAE coach Dougie Brown said. “Knowing as a player myself, it was often easier [to cope] when you could influence the game.
“The players are learning to do that, and in many ways they are probably calmer than we the management are. Once the preparation is done, other than a few bits of tactical advice, there is not an awful lot we can do.”
Having been invited to bat first, the UAE batsmen struggled to find any fluency.
Rohan Mustafa, as has so often been the case in the recent past, held the innings together. The captain made 71, to help his side to 208-8 from their 50 overs.
That might not have appeared an insurmountable total, but it was 48 more than UAE managed against their Gulf neighbours last time the sides met, at the World Cricket League Division 2 in Namibia, and they defended that.
As such, they might have been confident at the break, but Mustafa was aware the pitch was better than his side had made it look.
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“It was a tense game,” Mustafa said. “Umar Shah and a couple of others have come to support, and even they were very tense. But credit to the guys, they defended 209 runs and that was a good effort.
“To be honest the wicket was not that bad, but we played some reckless shots, myself included when I was on 71.
“The bowlers worked really hard, especially the fast bowlers when there was no swing for them on that wicket. They did a good job for us.”
The fact Hong Kong are Thursday’s opposition is perhaps no surprise, despite their fitful form in pool play. They surprisingly lost their opening match of the Qualifier to Malaysia, then thrashed UAE by 182 runs, and then only crawled over the line in their must-win match against Nepal on Tuesday.
Nepal were fired out for just 95, but Hong Kong’s run chase was derailed by the brilliance of Sandeep Lamichhane.
The 17-year-old leg-spinner took 5-27 from 10 overs, but Hong Kong made it to victory with three wickets left.