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