Hard work, slice of luck: UAE earns chance to keep T20 World Cup dreams alive

The UAE face Sri Lanka in the semifinals of the Global qualifiers today. The winner of this match will qualify for this year's Women's T20 World Cup


Rituraj Borkakoty

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The UAE players celebrate a wicket against Vanuatu. — X
The UAE players celebrate a wicket against Vanuatu. — X

Published: Sun 5 May 2024, 11:01 AM

Having done their job by beating Vanuatu in the must-win game at the Global T20 World Cup Qualifiers in Abu Dhabi on Friday, the UAE women’s team were anxiously following every ball in the next game between Ireland and the Netherlands.

A place in the semifinals was up for grabs as the home team’s fortunes were hanging by a thread — a Dutch win over Ireland would have knocked them out of the semifinal race in a tournament from which only the two finalists would qualify for this year’s Women’s T20 World Cup.

So barely a few minutes after their loud post-match celebrations, the UAE players had gone quiet, sitting in one room, silently saying their prayers and hoping that the Irish, who had already qualified for the semis, would quell the Dutch threat.

Well, around 10:30 last night, the UAE players were roaring and jumping for joy as Ireland had just thrashed the Netherlands by 54 runs in the final Group B game.

By the barest of margins, the UAE reached the semifinals to keep the T20 World Cup dream alive.

“We were all sitting in one room, praying and celebrating every Dutch wicket together. So when Ireland finally won, our celebrations were pretty much the same when we win a game of cricket because it was such a big moment for us to reach the semifinals,” skipper Esha Oza told the Khaleej Times on Saturday.

Of course, Esha’s team haven’t made it to the semifinals just with a slice of luck. They have also shown remarkable skills and a never-say-die spirit to come this far.

From battling unstable weather conditions which led to the cancellation of an important warm-up event to bouncing back from two defeats (against Ireland and Zimbabwe) with back-to-back wins (against Netherlands and Vanuatu) in group stages, the UAE team have overcome all obstacles to earn a shot at qualifying for the World Cup.

This team is now just one step away from making history when they take on Sri Lanka in the semifinals in Abu Dhabi on Sunday (7:30 pm UAE Time). In Sunday’s first semifinal, Ireland will take on Scotland (3 pm UAE Time).

With only the two finalists of this tournament guaranteed World Cup berths, expect gripping battles in the two semifinal encounters in Abu Dhabi.

The home team, though, is now brimming with confidence. “It feels amazing. We have worked really hard for this. It feels like all the hard work from the players, and the coaching staff have paid off. We are now just one win away from the World Cup. It’s going to be an amazing day tomorrow (Sunday),” Esha said.

Esha’s team is also unperturbed by the challenge of facing a big team like Sri Lanka which features, apart from several experienced players, Chamari Athapaththu, the world’s top-ranked ODI batter.

“We are very confident for the match. We have played Sri Lanka before in the Asia Cup, and we gave them a tough fight, it was a last-ball finish,” Esha said.

“There is nothing to lose, we are just going to go out there and give our best. I think there is a lot at stake for Sri Lanka (being a big cricket country). But our team is confident and the girls are raring to go.

“Look, we have proved in the last two games (against the Netherlands and Vanuatu) that we are here not just to participate. We are here to compete and win matches and qualify for the World Cup.”

Samaira Dharnidharka, the 17-year-old pace bowler who produced a stunning four-wicket spell (4-0-12-4) in the 70-run win over Vanuatu on Friday, now can’t wait to test her skills against Athapaththu, one of the world’s best batters, on Sunday.

“It was a different feeling yesterday (Friday) getting those four wickets.. So bowling to Athapaththu is going to be incredible. We have played them (Sri Lanka) twice in the past, we came close to beating them. So hopefully, the third time (on Sunday) will be a lucky charm for us,” Samaira, who made her international debut at 11, told the Khaleej Times on Saturday.

“We want to win this because qualifying for the T20 World Cup would be a dream come true. The under-19 team have already done it once. So for the senior team to do it, it’s going to be even more amazing.”

Regardless of the result on Sunday, the UAE’s rise in women’s cricket is quite amazing.

In a country which lacked a proper system for women’s cricket until about 15 years ago, it’s indeed amazing to see the national team now competing for a place in the World Cup.

“These girls, what they have done is amazing, losing the first two matches (to Ireland and Zimbabwe) then to win the next matches, they have shown what they are made of,” Ahmed Raza, the team’s head coach, told the Khaleej Times on Saturday.

“It’s a great boost to women’s cricket in the UAE to have a performance like this in a global qualifying event. The UAE is an associate member of the ICC, hopefully, we will soon earn the ODI status because the improvements from this team have been incredible.

“Now if we win this match (against Sri Lanka) and qualify for the World Cup, it’s going to be a huge moment for women’s cricket in this country.”


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