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UAE players celebrate a wicket during the ACC Men's U19 Asia Cup 2023 Group B match against Japan held at the ICC Academy ground in Dubai on Wednesday. Image Credit: Courtesy: ACC

Dubai: The UAE confidently marched into the semi-finals of the Asia Cup Under-19 with a 107-run over minnows Japan. The victory has given the hosts a meeting with Group A toppers Pakistan, who have maintained an unbeaten record in this tournament.

Former Pakistan opener and UAE coach Mudassar Nazar is confident of his team’s chances against Pakistan and feels the team is in a good shape, mentally and physically, to overcome any challenge.

“A lot of hard work has gone in to the team for last couple of years, at least. We were trying to stick to the same squad and they are all graduating now and they are over the moon after rubbing shoulders with the best in Asia. And then double it with win over Sri Lanka and a good performance against Bangladesh. Things are looking very rosy for the team and for ECB,” said 67-year-old former Pakistan coach.

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UAE skipper Aayan Afzal Khan bowls during the match against Nepal on Wednesday. Image Credit: ACC

Huge challenge

Talking about the Friday’s semi-finals, Mudassar said: “We are playing against the best side, obviously a Test-playing nation. It would be a huge challenge. But on our day, we can beat anybody. I’m just hoping that it will be one of those golden days and we come out trumps.”

Beating a Test-playing nation is nothing new for the UAE Under-19 team. The Young Turks had defeated hosts West Indies in the 2022 World Cup Plate semi-finals and went on to win the title after defeating Ireland in the final. Current skipper Aayan Afzal Khan played a crucial role with a match-winning 93. All-rounder Dhruv Parashar and wicketkeeper and opener Aryansh Sharma were also part of the winning team from the current Under-19 squad.

On Wednesday, Aayan, Dhruv and Maroof Merchant scored half-centuries to take UAE to an imposing total of 320 for seven in 50 overs against Japan in the final Group B match at the ICC Academy grounds. In the chase, Japan gave a good account of themselves, scoring 213 for four in 50 overs. Skipper Koji Abe scored an unbeaten 69 while useful contributions came from Charles Hinze and Kiefer Lake. Left-arm spinner Harshit Seth claimed two wickets.

Impressive show

Aayan, who was adjudged player of the match for a second successive game, has been growing in stature as a player and as a skipper of the Under-19 team. “After his impressive show against the West Indies, Aayan was drafted into the senior team, during the Twenty20 series against Bangladesh. He grabbed the chance with both hands. Since then he has been coming up with major contributions through his bowling, because he bats low down the order. He picked up a number of wickets during the Asia Cup Under-19 qualifiers in Malaysia. Now he has had a couple of useful knocks for us. All the experience he gained is proving invaluable for the team,” added Mudassar.

The exposure of youngsters against quality teams has done wonders for their confidence and attitude in the last few months. The UAE senior team have recently defeated West Indies, Afghanistan and New Zealand and some of the under-19 players were part of those winning squads.

“We become better only by playing against better teams and better players. So the more these guys are exposed to better teams the more they will improve. We have got the infrastructure now and the Emirates Cricket Board is right behind them. They’ve got all kinds of support they require, it’s up to the boys, who are doing a fine job now,” Mudassar concluded.

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Bangladesh opener Ashiqur Rahman Shibli celebrates his century against Sri Lanka at the ICC Cricket Academy ground on Wednesday. Image Credit: ACC

Bangladesh win

In the other match of the day, Sri Lankan batting once again failed as they managed only 200 for nine in the 50 overs. It’s for the second match in succession, the batters have not capitalised on their starts. Six batters have got out for a score of 20-plus, which has not helped them develop any real partnership. It was a similar case during the loss against hosts UAE, where the Islanders managed under-par 220 for nine.

In a must-win clash for Sri Lanka, Bangladesh suffered an early scare in their case when they lost opener Jisham Alam for no score. However, fellow opener Ashiqur Rahman Shibli remained unbeaten on 116 to ensure that the Tigers enter the semi-finals with a clean record three straight wins. Bangladesh will take on India in the other semi-final on Friday.