Muhammad Waseem of MI Emirates receives the Best UAE player during the presentation of the Final of the DP World International League T20 between the MI Emirates and the Dubai Capitals-1708528661438
UAE skipper Muhammad Waseem of MI Emirates receives the Best UAE player award during the DP World ILT20 presentation ceremony on Saturday. Image Credit: CREIMAS/ILT20

Dubai: The UAE cricket is ready to move higher into the echelons of world cricket with the completion of a successful and highly competitive DP World ILT20 Season 2.

The experience of the UAE players will stand them in good stead and the appointment of new national head coach, former Indian opener Lalchand Rajput, ahead of the crucial qualification stage for the 2027 World Cup will ensure that the Associate Nation will push their claim to be among the elite.

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“I want to thank the Emirates Cricket Board for appointing me for this exciting role. UAE has emerged as one of the stronger Associate Members in recent years and the players have put in some good performances in both ODIs and T20Is. The current batch is exceptionally talented, and I look forward to working with them and further harnessing their cricket skills,” Rajput said. “I am confident that the boys, buoyed by their exposure to top quality cricket and practice facilities here in Dubai, will continue to prosper. The UAE cricket has a very bright future and my goal would be to make the team perform more consistently and take them to the next level, which I am very confident they are fully capable of.”

Newly appointed UAE head coach Lalchand Rajput aims to take the exceptional talents to the next level. Image Credit: Source: ECB

General Secretary Emirates Cricket Board Mubashshir Usmani: “We are delighted to announce the appointment of Lalchand Rajput as UAE men’s head coach. Rajput has a proven track record and has done an exceptional job as a coach for various national and domestic teams around the world.

“We are confident that under his coaching UAE men’s cricket will flourish further. I also want to take this opportunity to thank Mudassar Nazar for his stellar work as the interim head coach. Mudassar will now return to his role as Head of the National Academy Programme where he will continue to identify and groom our future stars.”

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Richer in experience

The DP World ILT20, arguably the best Twenty20 franchise league among the Associate Member nations with several international stars competing in the six-team league, saw the emergence of new stars like all-rounder Alishan Sharafu, pacers Muhammad Jawadullah, Muhammad Rohid, leg-spinner Zuhaib Zubair all making their mark in the ILT20 Season 2. However, UAE skipper Muhammad Waseem underlined his importance in the UAE set-up while clinching the Blue Belt for the top UAE player for the second year on a row, while young all-rounders Aayan Afzal Khan and Ali Naseer returned richer in experience.

“Very happy to have won (the Blue Belt for the best UAE player) for the second year in a row. Happy for the UAE players who performed very well overall. It’s a great league, especially for the local UAE players and am so happy to see them all do well,” said the jubilant UAE skipper Waseem after MI Emirates clinched the Season 2 title. “We had a very good combination in Season 2. We had the bowlers, the batters and the all-rounders and I really enjoyed batting with (Kusal) Perera.”

Alishan Sharafu of Abu Dhabi Knight Riders-1708528666134
Alishan Sharafu scored a match-winning 82 against the Desert Vipers in the DP World ILT20 Season 2. Image Credit: CREIMAS/ILT20

The UAE will be facing Scotland and Canada in the ICC World Cricket League 2 from February 28. The League 2 will comprise 144 matches in the lead up to the World Cup Qualifier. The top four teams from League 2 will make it to the World Cup Qualifier. They will be joined in the Qualifier by four teams coming through the Qualifier Play-Offs as well as teams that don’t qualify automatically based on ICC ODI Rankings.

UAE all-rounder Alishan Sharafu has grabbed this chance of playing among the high-quality international cricketers with both hands as he finished second behind Waseem among the UAE players. The former UAE Under-19 captain, who led the team to the Plate title in the 2022 Under-19 World Cup in the West Indies, could not make his mark in the senior team and lost his place in the squad.

Playing the waiting game

However, the 21-year-old is hopeful of returning to the side after making some adjustments to his technique under Abu Dhabi Knight Riders’ batting coach Ryan ten Doeschate. That bore immediate results with Sharafu scoring 220 runs in 11 innings with a highest match-winning knock of 82 not out against Desert Vipers.

One of the biggest mistakes that Sharafu had managed to eliminate is that playing a shot too early in the innings. Now he tries to take some time to settle down and then start playing his shots. Initially he had faced difficulties but after a few games, he found the right momentum to his role.

“It feels great. I had a decent season playing many games last season. Thankfully, the management was supportive enough to give me the opportunity and glad to contribute to the team’s win,” Sharafu told Gulf News. “I tried to stick to the role given to me but I had to make a lot of changes. I tried to hurry myself a bit too early and being young, I didn’t have the experience. Being around in more professional environments, I’ve learnt to pace my innings and pick up the small things to try and mature as a player,” he added. “When I get an opportunity to play for UAE, I’ll try to do the same and just give myself a proper go and try to get myself in and score big.”

Ali Naseer, who made his debut for the UAE senior team last year, has been cementing his place as a talented all-rounder. After missing the initial part of the season, Naseer came in during the sixth match after missing out the early part of Season 2 with a hamstring strain he suffered during a practice game before the tournament.

Ali Naseer-1708528657988
Young UAE all-rounder Ali Naseer had learnt the nuances of bowling to situations from top bowlers like Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shadab khan and Mohammed Amir. Image Credit: CREIMAS/ILT20

How to absorb pressure 

His unbeaten 63 against MI Emirates went in a losing cause for Desert Vipers, but it’s not just the innings that made the difference, but the entire journey during the 10-match league. He brushed shoulders with some of best players in world today that includes Alex Hales, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shadab Khan, Wanindu Hasaranga and Mohammed Amir.

“It was a pretty good season. I could have been better if some results had gone our way, but I thoroughly enjoyed playing with Desert Vipers,” said the 19-year-old. I was able to play these great bowlers at the nets and it taught me quite a bit in batting and I was able to pick their brains to bowl at specific situations. Overall, it really helped me to improve my mental game,” he said and continued, “one of the main things that I learnt from them is how to absorb pressure and then continue scoring by playing my natural game, which is to be aggressive.”

Naseer is now focusing on the WCL 2 series and the three-match Twenty20 series at home before the Premier Cup in Oman.

“My first goal is to ensure that UAE qualify for the Asia Cup,” he added.