The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has touched down in Perth to launch the final stages of its preparation for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, which will be played in Australia and New Zealand from 14 February to 29 March. With five months to go to cricket’s pinnacle 50-over tournament, the UAE is the first of the four qualifiers to arrive in Australia and New Zealand to hone its skills as part of a tour organised by the ICC’s High Performance Programme (HPP). The UAE is preparing for its second ICC Cricket World Cup, having previously appeared in the 1996 edition staged in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and the side will start its six-match tour in Perth before travelling to Darwin.
UAE coach Aqib Javed was a member of the Pakistan side that won the ICC Cricket World Cup when it was last staged in Australia and New Zealand, in 1992, as well as the 1996 squad, and he said the HPP camp will provide vital experience ahead of the ICC’s flagship ODI event. “Since the World Cup Qualifier earlier this year in New Zealand, we have made even more progress. This HPP camp, with games and training at different venues, under different conditions and against high quality opposition, is very important for our preparation. We’ll then come back to the UAE and prepare specifically on Perth and Gabba wickets in the nets and across the ovals at the ICC Academy in Dubai, where we’re based. So this tour is very important as we ramp up our training in the final few months before the World Cup. There is a lot of hype in the players’ minds that Australian pitches are fast, bouncier – it will be a good experience to just go there and feel the pitches and the environment,” Javed said. The UAE will play two one-day matches against the Warriors in Perth before travelling to Darwin, where it will face Papua New Guinea (PNG), the Northern Territory and the Redbacks in four games to complete its two-week tour.
The side gained ODI status in 2014 following its performance at the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier New Zealand 2014, and Aqib believes that the UAE has the talent to make a mark on the global stage in 2015, “The team did really well in New Zealand during the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2014. Now it is a tougher task ahead, which the players are really excited about. They’ve got the abilities, so now it is about the mind-set.” After sealing the fourth and final qualification spot at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 through the qualifying event, the UAE will join Pool B of the ICC Cricket World Cup, along with defending champion India, qualifier Ireland, 1992 champion Pakistan, South Africa, two-time champion West Indies and Zimbabwe.
The UAE will open its campaign against Zimbabwe at Saxton Oval, Nelson, on 19 February before taking on Ireland at the Gabba on 25 February. The Asian side will face its near neighbour and defending champion India in the third match of its ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 campaign, and Aqib said he is looking forward to the clash in Perth, “Perth pitches against India will be interesting, I think we have a good chance to give them a tough time. We’ve got two or three good seamers, we’ve got a strong spin bowling attack, so I think it’s about assessing players, positions and then making sure you make a good final 11 to compete with different teams.”
The former bowler, who claimed two wickets against England in the final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 1992 to help Pakistan win its sole World Cup to date, believes his experience at cricket’s pinnacle event will benefit his side, “I definitely think I have good advice to share with the team. I still remember the World Cup in 1992, we didn’t start really well, we lost about three or four games, and then I still remember Imran Khan’s speech just before the game against Australia in Perth, that was the best moment in my life. I never felt before – or after – the way I felt that day.” It is all about inspiring people. I’ve got the experience, I have been through World Cups as a player and as a coach. So I think it is good for me to be with the team, because I’m someone who has done it before.” Aqib, who has won three ICC events in three different roles, claimed his best figures of the 1992 tournament during his side’s famous victory against Australia in Perth (three for 21), and has happy memories of the city, “Perth definitely holds some special memories for me. It’s a beautiful place, I always have a wonderful time in Australia. I think that is my favourite country as far as cricket is concerned.”
Aqib also played in the ICC Cricket World Cup in 1996 and claimed two wickets when Pakistan faced the UAE in a group match. He believes cricket in the UAE has expanded and improved greatly in the 18 years that have passed since that encounter. “I think that in 1996, no-one took the UAE as seriously as they do today. There was only limited exposure to the world. People weren’t sure how good UAE cricket was. But now, people have seen UAE playing at different levels, and I think we can surprise a few people and a few teams.”