When Mohammed Naveed sent Bilal Khan’s middle stump flying to seal a 46-run win over Oman, it meant the UAE could breathe again.
It meant they are still alive going into the final pool match of World Cricket League Division 2. It meant they can still dream of playing at the World Cup next year, or of retaining their status as one-day international cricketers – or perhaps merely just of keeping their jobs.
And it even meant Dougie Brown, the national team’s coach, could return from his self-enforced exile under a lucky tree on the neighbouring field.
UAE win! Means coach Dougie Brown can come back from exile sat under a lucky tree on the next field— Paul Radley (@PaulRadley) February 12, 2018
It is difficult to know what was the defining factor in bringing about the breathless win over the UAE’s Gulf neighbours at Affies sports club, in Namibia’s capital.
Maybe it was Ghulam Shabber’s fighting, resolute, 105-ball innings of 63, made against probing early-morning fast bowling, on a pitch that was moving up, down and sideways.
Maybe it was down to two spectacular pieces of fielding. First, Rameez Shahzad rose to take a catch high above his head on the boundary. Oman were cruising towards their victory target of 160, on 69-2 before Rameez’s intervention.
And then, shortly after, captain Rohan Mustafa affected a run out with a direct hit.
Or maybe it was the relentlessness of the UAE bowlers. Naveed himself was entirely magnificent, picking up three for eight from 6.5 overs of great pace bowling.
Mohammed Naveed three for eight in 6.5 overs, took the last wicket. What a player— Paul Radley (@PaulRadley) February 12, 2018
Imran Haider, keen to impress on his first appearance of the competition so far, also took three with his leg-spin. He and Naveed hurried their team across the winning line with four wickets for no runs in the space of nine balls, as Oman’s challenge faltered.
Or maybe it really was thanks to Brown’s superstitious nature. Every little helps.
“Every time I came and sat in here with the team, the game seemed to be going away from us,” Brown said. “So I took myself off for a little wander, and found myself a little spot over there away from the guys. It just so happened to coincide with us doing particularly well.
“I came back again and the game seemed to go away from us again, so I thought it probably best when we were in the field, to take myself to that comfy corner again. Thankfully everything seemed to go well from that point in.”
Ahmed Raza, centre, and UAE captain Rohan Mustafa, left, were beside themselves with joy. Courtesy of Johan Jooste
When it came about, victory appeared comfortable, with six Oman wickets falling for 12 runs, five being for the addition of just one run, and four falling with the score parked on 113.
But the rest of the day had been filled with asphyxiating tension. The UAE were sure it was a poor batting wicket, so opted to have first use when they won the toss, knowing it would only get tougher.
Posting 159 was a good return in comparison to other matches at the venue this week, but it hardly felt formidable.
With the anguish of the previous two defeats, which have left their chances of advancing to the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe next month on a precipice, fresh in their mind, they did not need early dismissals.
But Mustafa and Ashfaq Ahmed, their two leading run-scorers in the tournament, were gone within the first four overs.
Ghulam and Rameez repelled the Oman onslaught, but the side from Muscat will have turned around in good spirits, all the more so when their top order looked untroubled.
Then Naveed had his say, and the UAE were on their way to a vital win, which leaves them in with a chance of taking one of the crucial top two positions in the group, if they can beat Namibia on Wednesday.
“My thinking was just to bowl wicket to wicket,” Naveed said. “I think 159 is a very good score on this wicket. The average at this ground in this tournament is 140, so 159 is a good total, so I always felt we could win.”
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