UAE’S HOPES REST ON ‘BAD BOYS’ MUSTAFA, SHAHZAD AND RAZA

▶ Dis­ci­plinary is­sues of the trio pale in com­par­i­son to cor­rup­tion charges against three of their team­mates – but now they must step up in T20 World Cup Qual­i­fiers, writes

The National - News - - SPORT CRICKET - Paul Radley

Make no mis­take, UAE cricket is at its low­est ebb.

A cor­rup­tion story, in­volv­ing the two high­est-ranked and best-known UAE play­ers, break­ing just as the coun­try’s home­made fran­chise league is hav­ing its lav­ish draft cer­e­mony. And just be­fore the start of the na­tional team’s big­gest com­pe­ti­tion in 18 months.

The UAE start their cam­paign for one of the six places on of­fer for T20 World Cup in Aus­tralia in 2020 when they play Oman at the Zayed Cricket Sta­dium on Fri­day.

On one count, things are go­ing swim­mingly. They are on a run of seven con­sec­u­tive T20 wins against in­ter­na­tional op­po­si­tion, in­clud­ing two in prac­tice matches this week when the tur­moil was al­ready in full force.

But the sus­pen­sion of Mo­hammed Naveed, Shaiman Anwar and Qadeer Ahmed be­cause of cor­rup­tion charges casts a hideous pall. Who is left to carry the fight? Three play­ers, in par­tic­u­lar, should be up for it.

Step for­ward Ahmed Raza, Rameez Shahzad and Ro­han Mustafa. Re­mem­ber them? The three ‘bad boys’ of UAE cricket, who started this year sus­pended from the na­tional team for crit­i­cis­ing fa­cil­i­ties at the Emerg­ing Teams Asia Cup in Pak­istan on so­cial me­dia.

Ah, sim­pler times.

Those of­fences seem like car­toons, now, set against the X-rated hor­ror this week has be­come.

If the be­lea­guered na­tional team are to suc­ceed in book­ing their ticket to Aus­tralia, each of those three will have to thrive over the next 16 days. They have the abil­ity to do so, and the spirit, too.

Mustafa has cut a sorry fig­ure since he was jet­ti­soned from the cap­taincy for mis­ad­vised but heart­felt tweets about fa­cil­i­ties in Karachi last De­cem­ber.

The fact he was over­looked in favour of Raza when Naveed was thrown out this week sug­gests he might never get the arm­band back.

How will he re­spond? Raza and Mustafa went to school to­gether. They have grown up to­gether in UAE cricket, too.

If any­one can re­store Mustafa to his best, Raza has as good a chance as any. Mustafa has not been a stranger to dis­ci­plinary is­sues, most no­tably when he was thrown out of the coun­try at the turn of 2015 for ab­scond­ing from duty – a row that cen­tred, pre­dictably, on cricket.

To say he has turned him­self around un­der­states the point. Last year, he was named MVP at a tour­na­ment in Nepal, won a mo­tor­bike, cashed it in im­me­di­ately, then pledged the money to a lo­cal char­ity.

And Mustafa, it is un­der­stood, has fol­lowed the cor­rect process in re­port­ing ap­proaches to the ICC’s anti-cor­rup­tion unit in the past. UAE cricket would not be in its cur­rent mess if ev­ery­one would do that.

Rameez, too, has had his is­sues. At times, it has felt like he could not be any more anti-es­tab­lish­ment if he walked into a dis­ci­plinary hear­ing wear­ing a vest say­ing: “Where do I sign?”

But, like Mustafa, he is mar­ried to the cause. His ban, and a sub­se­quent fin­ger in­jury that kept him out of all se­ri­ous cricket last sea­son, hurt him.

His ties to the na­tional team go back fur­ther than any­one, as the son of one of the 1996 World Cup squad, Shahzad Altaf. He wants to fol­low in his dad’s foot­steps by play­ing at a World Cup, too.

He turns 32 in Novem­ber. His in­fant son has been along to watch him in the warm-up matches. He is a proper grownup now.

And then there is Raza, who was handed a hos­pi­tal pass when he was asked to helm the ship in the cir­cum­stances of this week.

Credit to him for ac­cept­ing, though it is no sur­prise he did. This is a man who has served a long ap­pren­tice­ship to the cap­taincy be­fore, only to be dropped from the team en­tirely ahead of the big­gest com­pe­ti­tion any would play in – the 2015 World Cup.

He was given the cap­taincy later that year, then promptly had it snatched away again. He was banned for eight weeks for ‘tweet­gate’ at the end of last year, and fined $1,000.

And still he wants to help get the team to where they need to be. Good luck to him – and them.

Chris Whi­teoak / The Na­tional

Ro­han Mustafa was re­moved as UAE cap­tain for crit­i­cis­ing fa­cil­i­ties dur­ing the Emerg­ing Teams Asia Cup in Karachi last year

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