ICC Media Release
The United Arab Emirates players know now is the time they need to launch their campaign in the ICC Intercontinental Cup 2007-08. With just 17 points from three games out of a maximum of 60, this match against Namibia, which begins in Sharjah on Wednesday, is crucial to Saqib Ali and his men if they are to push their way up from their current position of seventh on the log.
But a fine win against Bermuda in November at Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi has given the team a serious confidence boost and kept hopes alive.
'It was an unbelievable win for us,' said Saqib, referring to the fact that his team was behind by 168 runs on first innings yet still managed to come back and win the game by 138 runs.
'That victory really gave us the belief that we can do well in this competition. I think we have what it takes. We have plenty of experience with people like Khuram Khan and Arshad Ali and there is a good feeling in the squad,' he said.
That said, preparations for this match have not all gone to plan. Over the past couple of weeks, the region has experienced heavy rains and chilly temperatures that has hampered the UAE's training programme.
'Also it is a new pitch at Sharjah Stadium so we don't really know how it is going to play,' said Saqib, although traditionally the ground is a batsman's paradise.
Former captain Arshad Ali is glad to be free of the responsibility of leading his side. The opening batsman handed over that duty to Saqib before the Bermuda match and it certainly seemed to make a difference.
In the second innings Arshad scored 185 in the UAE's total of 449 setting up the home win.
'I decided that I wanted to play as just an ordinary player, not captain,' said Arshad. 'It is easier for me that way and since I gave up the captaincy I have been doing very well, scoring runs and taking wickets,' he said.
Mind you, the extra pressure of captaincy did not seem to affect Saqib adversely. The 29-year-old came back from a duck in the first innings to score 142 in the second, sharing a 155-run fourth-wicket partnership with Arshad.
'We are wary of Namibia. We know they have a good side with plenty of experience and lots of batting. It will be very interesting. I am looking forward to it,' said Saqib. The UAE is boosted also by the presence of its coach, former Pakistan Test player Kabir Khan.
Meanwhile, the Africans come into this match with a 100 per cent record having secured the maximum 20 points from an outright win over Canada in Windhoek last October. Bjorn Kotze was the backbone of the Namibia batting in that game, compiling 163 to give his side the initiative from day one, and the 29-year-old has made the trip to Sharjah eager to pick up where he left off.
Kotze's brother Deon has not made the trip, however, and neither has Louis Klazinga, who took 6-82 in the match with his right-arm pace.
Namibia has never made the final of this competition but there is a feeling - in south-west Africa if nowhere else - that this could be their year. Maximum points over the next four days will see Louis Burger's men go joint top of the table with Kenya.
United Arab Emirates: Saqib Ali (captain), Arshad Ali, Khurram Khan, Mohammed Iqbal, Amjad Javed, Alawi Shukri, Zahid Shah, Waseem Bari, Rashid Khan, Owais Hameed, Gayan Silva, Fahad al Hashimi, Amjad Ali, Ahmed Raza.
Namibia: Louis Burger (captain), Louis van der Westhuizen, Kola Burger, Michael du Rand, Raymond van Schoor, Tobias Verwey, Wilber Slabber, Andries Burger, Dawid Botha, Gerrie Snyman, Ian van Zyl, Bjorn Kotze.
Umpires: Darrell Hair and Neils Bagh