UAE © Getty Images
UAE team is driven by sheer passion © Getty Images

 

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

 

United Arab Emirates (UAE) are no strangers to cricket! Since the 1980s, they have been like a cricketing oasis in the region, hosting One-Day Internationals (ODI) at the Sharjah Cricket Ground quite regularly, before India pulled out in the early 2000s. However, with the huge expatriate population in the country, cricket remains a popular sport. And, it is their team that would now enter its second world event, in an attempt to become more of a regular fixture in the top league.

 

Although cricket is popular in the UAE, a lot of the fandom revolves around their own national teams. The Indians and Pakistanis in the country still have this intense passion for their respective team. Now, that is why they used to turn out in huge numbers when the two nations took on each other in Sharjah, all those years ago. If one looks at the UAE team, the squad is built up of players primarily from those two nations, men who have their day-to-day jobs and cricket is just a passion for them. For example, Khurram Khan, the 42-year-old skipper works with the Emirates airlines. For this team, appearing in the World Cup is a huge step after years of struggle.

 

 

The bottom-line is that this team is driven by passion, like a lot of the other Associate nations. For them, a chance to compete at a higher level is a blessing, although they may not exactly fit in. In 1994, UAE made its international debut in the Asia Cup and then played the 1996 World Cup. Since then, they have only competed in two Asia Cups, in 2004 and 2008. Thus, the ICC World T20 2014 comes as a new opportunity to make a mark.

 

As such, it is an opportunity to capture the imagination of the residents of their country. When they play a senior side, there is a buzz in the country. When they faced India in the Asia Cup 2004, some businessmen set a prize money for the bowler who would go onto dismiss Sachin Tendulkar. But, if this side can perhaps pull off a victory or two, there may be a tide of bigger support for them. Local cricket will certainly get a boost, as UAE primarily depends on visits from other nations. With the Indian Premier League (IPL) coming in next month, there would be a lot of fanfare. In the process, the national team does get eclipsed.

 

Perhaps, one issue the UAE team face in terms of support is the fact that the large expatriate population are not citizens. Thus, their support primarily lies with their own team. There is goodwill, but it isn’t the same as passionate support. A Nepal or an Afghanistan team surely gets more support. Thus, this UAE team can perhaps eye that kind of support with a good performance. It will of course be a gradual process, but there has to be a beginning somewhere. If they can consistently compete at the world stage, things may change soon.

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)