The UAE cricket team pose during a dinner hosted by the UAE Ambassador Abdulla Al Subousi in Geelong.
The UAE bravehearts returned from Down Under with their faces brimming with pride after a brief but historic sojourn, having plied their trade at the pinnacle of cricket spectacle — the T20 World Cup.
Not only did the UAE qualify for the World Cup but they also registered their victory in the showpiece event. It took them six matches and a long wait spanning over eight years to break the World Cup jinx.
UAE defeated a much-fancied Namibia for a maiden victory at a T20 World Cup. They had defeated Netherlands in the 50-over World Cup in their maiden appearance at the showpiece event in 1996.
However, after a long wait of 26 years, they emulated their feat in another format in the second attempt. The UAE had qualified for the 2014 edition but failed to win any of their three matches.
Fast forward to 2022, the UAE team were beaten in the first two matches by Sri Lanka and Netherlands and looked set for another win-less campaign. But when the others were in doubt, a group of youngsters in the UAE camp had different plans. They were determined to break the jinx.
Though the UAE lost their first two matches, they had come agonizingly close to winning the match against the Netherlands as the Dutch reached the target with just one ball remaining.
The 2022 T20 World Cup marked the beginning of a new era in many ways. UAE’s progress to the second round was halted by a whisker. They had a great learning curve and got a lot of positives from the tournament.
Even before notching up their first win against Namibia, the UAE defeats in the first two matches were punctuated by memorable moments.
Even before a single ball was bowled, the UAE got their name etched in the record books. Their first match of the campaign fetched them a record that even a Test playing nation would have been proud of.
When the UAE named Aayan Afzal Khan in the playing XI, he became the youngest player to play at a T20 World Cup at the age of 16 years and 335 days. The record was previously held by the former pacer of Pakistan Mohammed Amir.
In the same match, Junaid Siddique put up a brilliant bowling performance against the Netherlands and led the fight-back with two dismissals in quick succession to complete his three-wicket haul and bring the UAE on the brink of the victory.
It was just the matter of one dot ball here and there in the middle of the innings that would have turned the table on the Netherlands.
But the UAE refused to give up and regrouped themselves for a far-superior Sri Lanka. But the result against Asian champions was quite expected.
But even Lankan Lions had their brief scare in the middle as Karthik Meiyappan took the first hat-trick of the tournament to derail the innings. When Lanka were cruising nicely for 117/2, Karthik got rid of big-hitting Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Charith Asalanka and skipper Dasun Shanaka in three consecutive deliveries to complete the hat-trick.
Though an experienced Lanka overcame the brief turbulence and posted a fighting total, but Meiyappan feat exhibited the fighting spirit of the UAE. He became just the fifth bowler to snare a hat-trick at a T20 World Cup and the first for his country — the UAE.
But their persistent performances were the harbinger of the success, which was around the corner. When the others could not see it coming, the young UAE side had already sniffed it.
The young predators – the average age of the UAE team is 27 years – were looking to hunt a big whale to herald their arrival on the biggest stage. Finally the day came, when the UAE’s long-held dream of notching up a victory in a T20 World Cup was realized.
Muhamamd Waseem, CP Rizwan and Basil Hameed showed a perfect example of great teamwork and helped UAE post a challenging total. Namibia brought the equation down to 7 needed off the last three balls before Waseem got rid of David Wiese and the rest is history.
The UAE’s win was special in one more way as it exuded the tolerant culture of the country. The players of India and Pakistan rub shoulders with each other and play in harmony, promoting the values of the wise leadership of the country.
These performances in the bits and pieces have set the tone for a bright future of UAE cricket. The day is not far when the UAE will be a major force to reckon with in the cricket fraternity.