Dubai: Ahmad Raza, who captained the UAE team to the play-offs of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup qualifiers by surmounting the toughest of odds following his top players being investigated by the ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) and dropped from the squad, is now hopeful of reaching the T20 World Cup in Australia.
The UAE, who finished third in Group B, will take on Group A runners-up Netherlands at the Dubai International Stadium on Tuesday.
Speaking to Gulf News after an exciting 14-run win over Canada at the Zayed Cricket Stadium on Sunday night, Raza said: “It’s a great feeling to be in this position but the job is only half done. We now take on Netherlands and aim to play good smart cricket.”
Never before have the UAE team faced such a crisis and Raza took over the captaincy after skipper Mohammad Naveed had to be dropped owing to ACU’s investigation. Raza thanked his players that took up the challenge and played with determination.
“It is a very proud moment for all of us to make it to the play-offs, but our aim is to qualify for the World Cup,” he said. “To achieve it, I feel all of us need to back our skills in pressure games.”
Raza, 31, who came up the ranks from schools cricket through consistent performance to reach the national team, carries with him the experience of having played in 25 One Day Internationals and 34 T20 International. “Play-offs are about handling pressures. We will regroup in Dubai and give our best against Netherlands. I am happy with the way we played against Canada, especially after losing two quick wickets,” he said.
UAE had even beaten Ireland, who as Group B table-toppers earned a direct qualification for the World T20. In fact, the UAE had started their campaign by losing to Oman. Raza has received rave reviews from former cricketers-turned-commentators for his calm and cool approach that inspired the team to record four victories, especially against formidable rivals Ireland, Nigeria, Hong Kong and Canada, after the early reverse.
When asked about his approach, Raza said: “I think a captain should remain calm at all times as T20 is a format where you need make smart decisions and be proactive. Hence, I believe that being calm is the best way. I thank Emirates Cricket Board and the selectors for backing me to lead the team in such an important event.”
Meanwhile, the ICC has approved Vriitya Aravind, a 17-year-old promising wicketkeeper-batsman as replacement for UAE wicketkeeper batsman Ghulam Shabber, who disappeared from the squad after the second match of the tournament. A hard-hitting opening batsman Faizan Asif will replace Ashfaq Ahmad, who has been suspended from the squad following the ACU investigation.
October 29 — Play-off 1 — Netherlands v UAE 2.10pm, Play-off 2 — Namibia v Oman 7.30pm
October 30 — Play-off 3 — Scotland v Loser of Play-off 1 2.10pm, Play-off 4 — Hong Kong v Loser of Play-off 2 7.30pm
October 31 — Play-off for fifth and sixth places — Winner of Play-off 3 v Winner of Play-off 4 2.10pm
November 1 — Semi-final 1 — Ireland v Winner of Play-off 1 2.10pm, Semi-final 2 — PNG v Winner of Play-off 2 7.30pm
November 2 — Third place Play-off 2.10pm, Final 7.30pm