Exclusive: We want to become an ICC full member, says UAE cricket coach Robin Singh

The UAE head coach aims to create an ecosystem where there is a big pool of players

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UAE national team head coach Robin Singh. (KT file)
UAE national team head coach Robin Singh. (KT file)

Rituraj Borkakoty

Published: Fri 6 May 2022, 1:21 AM

Few people in cricket have epitomised single-mindedness as powerfully as Robin Singh. Dumped as an international cricketer after just two ODI appearances in 1989, Singh spent the next seven years in near-empty stadiums at the first-class level, scoring runs and taking wickets with incredible consistency. Eventually, the selectors were compelled to offer the man with an undying spirit another chance on the big stage.

It was a chance that Singh grabbed with both hands, getting two wickets in two balls to peg back the rampaging Australians in the 1996 Titan Cup game, setting up a memorable India win.

Singh may not have scored big runs or taken a five-for in his comeback match, but it was his resilience that helped reinvigorate the Indian team that night in Mohali, after the Australians got off to flying start chasing 290.

For the next five years, Singh conjured many magical nights for Indian cricket. While his left-handed batting was not a sight for the sore eyes, his fearlessness had an enduring beauty and he brought a level of athleticism to the field that was unheard of in Indian cricket.

Since hanging up his boots almost two decades ago, the Trinidad-born Singh has become an inspirational figure in dressing rooms, having moulded his players into champions during a trophy-laden coaching career in multiple franchise leagues.

But his journey as coach may well be defined by his work in the UAE, an associate member of the International Cricket Council.

Having accepted an offer from the Emirates Cricket Board to become the head coach of the senior men’s team and the director of cricket, Singh has scripted a remarkable turnaround in the fortunes of UAE cricket.

For a team that endured catastrophic events on and off the field (failure in the 2019 ICC T20 World Cup Qualifiers on home soil as well as a demoralising match-fixing scandal) less than three years ago, the UAE, backed by Singh’s vision and that wonderful ability to create bonhomie among the players, have been on a steep upward curve.

After burying the ghosts of 2019, the self-belief in the Ahmed Raza-led team now has soared so high that a slot in the 2022 T20 World Cup (October 16-November 13) in Australia is not enough for them .

They want to rub shoulders with the big boys by reaching the Super 12 from the preliminary round.

Members of the UAE senior men's team after qualifying for the 2022 T20 World Cup
Members of the UAE senior men's team after qualifying for the 2022 T20 World Cup

Singh has inspired the UAE to dream big. But the former Indian all-rounder says the T20 World Cup qualification is only the start of a beautiful journey.

During a freewheeling chat with the Khaleej Times, Singh said his biggest ambition is to create a pool of players that can allow him to build a strong reserve team to keep the first eleven on their toes.

It’s been more than two years since you became the UAE head coach and director of cricket. The results have been so impressive — the senior team have qualified for the T20 World Cup after the huge disappointment in 2019, the junior team won the Plate final at the Under 19 World Cup and the women’s team have reached the Global Qualifiers for the 2023 T20 World Cup...

When I first came here I looked at the issues, alongside the High Performance and Coaching team, and plucked specific ones to help rebuild the side with a focus on a futuristic plan for the sport, a concept I am very pleased that Emirates Cricket Management are completely on board with. Of course, the first thing on our agenda was to qualify for the top-tiered ICC tournaments; the Under 19 World Cup, the senior Men’s T20 World Cup, and the Women’s (T20) World Cup. Collectively, we have achieved all three (with the women’s team having advanced to the Global Qualifiers after winning the Asian qualifying championships), as well as setting our sights on the 50-Over World Cup next year in India. It’s not just about getting to the World Cups, we want to be competitive, and, that’s the prime focus at the moment. Emirates Cricket also have firm plans in place to become an ICC full member, so taking all these things into consideration it is extremely evident that more and more importance is placed on every game, our performance, our position, our ranking, it all depends on success. So, to support this focus, and remain committed to a positive, progressive approach, our high performance, coaching and development team is in the process of creating and implementing a system which is very unbiased and fair. We want everyone, who is interested in the game, to have an opportunity to represent the Flag and UAE Cricket, whether it’s men, or women. In saying that, the game has become increasingly professional, so we have to attract more and more people who are hungry, those who respect the game and their position within a team, to come and play the sport with the view of making it a career choice.

The UAE junior team won the Plate Division title of the 2022 ICC Under 19 World Cup, beating West Indies and Ireland in the semifinal and final
The UAE junior team won the Plate Division title of the 2022 ICC Under 19 World Cup, beating West Indies and Ireland in the semifinal and final

The Emirates Cricket Board has announced its plan to stage the UAE T20 League. Already the Manchester United owners and the Mumbai Indians owners have bought teams. This is a huge development. This is going to be one of the biggest T20 leagues in the world. How important is it to have an event of such magnitude in an ICC associate country?

As you know, there is the League that’s going to happen. The whole team wants to use that as a platform that will enhance and benefit the standard of our cricket. That’s really important from a commercial perspective too as it helps with additional resources and playing opportunities to achieve this. If you look at the IPL, for example, or the PSL as well, these tournaments bring out a lot of talent and give exposure. It creates a different culture really, a committed, hungry one, only the best can survive in those leagues. Of course, our local cricketers will be a part of that league, so such exposure will only be better for UAE cricket. This league gives UAE Cricket hope (on another level) and it’s something beautiful to look forward to.

The UAE have beaten Ireland, a Test-playing country, in five straight matches recently and even Paul Stirling, their best batsman, was hugely impressed with the UAE team. During a recent chat with us, he said the UAE players are not repeating mistakes in matches, and that’s a ‘drastic improvement’. He thinks you have played a big role in this change...

Personally, I think a lot of credit needs to go to the staff. The trainers, physios, the analyst, assistant coaches, everyone involved in the process, the management (at Emirates Cricket Board), the support from Mr Mubashshir (Mubashshir Usmani, General Secretary of the Emirates Cricket Board) and his team, you know, everybody has worked extremely hard. The second thing is the opportunity granted to train a lot, and play a lot of friendlies. We have exceptional facilities at our disposal and have used these facilities to our advantage. The focus here is mostly the T20 format, so, we have started to play a lot more 50-over cricket, so, more skill has been called on and used, you have to be consistent for a much longer period to succeed. Basically, we have worked towards creating a culture where everyone should be in a position to win us a game. Our team has worked on identifying and introducing a lot of young cricketers into the senior team from the previous Under 19 group, this has encouraged a lot of people to be involved in the system. At the same time, it’s a game where it’s not just about 10 or 12 people, you need to have an ecosystem. You need to create competition in the set-up. That is the only way the sport will grow. If people feel that they are the best, they need to make sure that they stay the best — not just for two days — but all the time. We need to get to different levels to understand that we are good enough to compete with the big boys. Playing Associate countries is fine, but what about going to the next level. That’s what we want. So, you know, when we played against Ireland, of course, and they play Test cricket — they play a lot more cricket than us, is to test ourselves against them first. We have managed to do really well against them, a Test-playing nation, so now it is important to continue this rise and beat any team that we play. As I said, it’s about creating an ecosystem and a culture where there is no complacency — a good pool of players, and a second team that can compete with our main senior team.

The UAE women's team also have made remarkable progress. The Chaya Mughal-led team reached the Global Qualifiers of the 2023 Women's T20 Cup Cup
The UAE women's team also have made remarkable progress. The Chaya Mughal-led team reached the Global Qualifiers of the 2023 Women's T20 Cup Cup

The UAE’s brilliant performance in the T20 World Cup qualifiers means the team has a good chance to advance to the Super 12 stage and play the big boys…

A very good chance, we have as good a chance as anybody else. A lot of work — a lot of homework — needs to be done, however. There are some good teams in the competition that we will have to beat, that should go without saying, so as I said previously — in every area, every department, we need to get better, we need to get much better, it’s about going there and beating the big teams. The more you play against better opposition, the better you become. Of course, you make mistakes (but) that’s the only way you can learn (and) you need to be learning and growing all the time.

Now that you have qualified for the T20 World Cup, what are the qualification chances for the ODI World Cup in 2023?

Goals have been set for how to qualify. I think, and am quietly confident, we are halfway there - we’re on track. The men have played almost 20 games in the past two months, that’s massive for any set-up and won almost 16 or 17 games including the ODIs. The take-away point is that we still have another 18 qualifying games to go (and) we know exactly what we need to do to qualify. We are working towards that and are in a good position to do that. Looking at the T20 World Cup in October (in Australia), it’s not going to hamper our (ICC 2023 50-Over World Cup) plan, it’s going to push our whole set-up much, much harder, come June onwards. Training has already started, and the standards set, we have to ensure that we maintain those standards.

Have you been impressed with the talent at the Fast Bowling Talent Hunt camp at the ICC Academy?

We will only know after we finish the camp. Right now our team is looking at all types of bowlers and we are mindful of not missing out on anyone who shows potential, so the process to identify the right talent with be followed. Our plan is to pick the best and take them through a rigorous process so they can meet the standards required. There are plans for a spinners camp as well as a batting camp, and will announce these at the appropriate time across our socials and (of course) with the media, so we strongly encourage people to keep an eye on our (official) channels and to be prepared once the Talent Hunts are announced.

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