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18 February 201519:34

Mohammad Tauqir: "The team is shaping up well"

For United Arab Emirates cricketers, the road to the ICC Cricket World Cup has been a time-consuming juggle between work and training, of finding enough hours in the day to prepare for playing the world’s best.

Mohammad Tauqir:

Mohammad Tauqir debuted for UAE in 1996

Over the last 12 months most headed off each day to their full-time jobs before assembling at the ICC Cricket Academy in Dubai in the evening five times a week for hours of training.

Time was found for a warm-up tour of Australia in September last year, before a four-match ODI series against Afghanistan in November and December and a month-long training camp in Dubai.

It is just what you have to do when you are playing at cricket’s biggest tournament, UAE captain Mohammad Tauqir explained. “It’s tough but we work in the morning and we practice in the evening,” Tauqir, an investment banker, said.

“We aren’t professional cricketers, we are semi-professional but our employers have been very kind and very supportive to let us go and play the game. “We’ve been practising very hard for the last six months. The team is shaping up well.”

The UAE will take on powerhouses including India, South Africa and Pakistan in Pool B, but Tauqir said underdog status suited his team.

“Everybody is very excited to represent the UAE,” he said. “We are not under any pressure, which is good. We will be enjoying every moment of this event. “We have some very good, very talented players. They are match winners and I look forward to seeing them do well at the tournament.”

A coveted appearance at the World Cup and the publicity that accompanies it will hopefully provide cricket in the UAE with a boost, Tauqir said.

“Cricket is very popular among the ex-pat community in Dubai but not many Emirati play the game,” he said. “However I believe our participation will inspire more UAE nationals to follow the game with passion.”

Most of the players have experienced large crowds playing in the Asia Cup, Tauqir said, standing them in good stead ahead of matches against India in Perth, Pakistan in Napier and South Africa in Wellington.

For 43-year-old Tauqir, it is the realisation of a life-long dream. The handy batsman and off-spin bowler, who first developed a passion for cricket while watching matches in Sharjah during the 1980s, made his one-day international debut in 2004.

He did so with a bang, scoring 55 at No.8 against an Indian team that included Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag.

After a year and a half away from international cricket, Tauqir returned in 2014 to take the reins of the national team for its first World Cup appearance since 1996.

“I was still playing domestic cricket and I was training, but this break was due to my work commitments. I have been back with the team now since last July,” Tauqir said. “I think playing in a World Cup for your country is the ultimate goal, so the World Cup was a big motivating factor for me.”

He took over the captaincy from Khurram Khan but is no stranger to the top job.

“I have led the team in the past and I am the most senior cricketer in the team, so it wasn’t a shock but it’s a good surprise. “This is a great moment for me personally to be leading the UAE at the ICC Cricket World Cup. I am very proud to represent my county and it gives me a sense of pride.”

Tauqir said the team was particularly looking forward to returning to the WACA, the venue for its February 28 clash with India, which it visited during last year’s warm-up tour.

“(Also) the MCG, that’s the ground I will be looking forward to playing at. We’ve got a warm-up game against Australia at the ground,” he said. “We had a tour of Perth and we played couple of matches at the WACA. “It did us a world of good to know the conditions. We have also been training in Dubai at the ICC Academy where the most of the wickets’ soil has been imported from Australia.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Mohammad Naveed: The right-arm medium bowler debuted against Malaysia on May 2, 2014, scoring 16 and taking 1-72 with the ball. The opening bowler’s performances in that tournament were enough to see him selected in November’s one-day series against Afghanistan, where he played all four matches before being included in the World Cup squad.

Khurram Khan: Born in Pakistan, Khurram Khan moved to the United Arab Emirates in 1999 to work for Emirates Airlines as a flight purser. The UAE vice-captain, who still combines cricket with his high-flying job, stepped out for his adopted country in the 2001 ICC Trophy in Canada, scoring 243 runs in eight innings to finish with UAE’s highest average. He played a crucial role in helping UAE qualify for their first ICC Cricket World Cup since 1996 in early 2014, finishing the tournament as his team’s top scorer.
The 43-year-old was in brilliant form in the months leading up to the ICC Cricket World Cup, scoring an unbeaten 132 against Afghanistan in late 2014 to become the oldest player to score an ODI hundred. He followed that with 85* in the next match of the series.

Andri Berenger: Talented young wicketkeeper-batsman Andri Berenger was born in the UAE but spent much of his schooling in Colombo, where he represented Sri Lanka in the 2010 ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup. He returned to the United Arab Emirates in 2012, and broke into the one-day international team for the November 2014 series against Afghanistan. Berenger played all four matches in that ODI series, scoring a maiden fifty on debut and following it with 66 in the final match of the series.

Mohammad Tauqir: A handy lower-order batsman and off-spin bowler, Mohammad Tauqir has been representing United Arab Emirates since 1996, when he played for his country in the Asian Cricket Council Trophy. The 43-year-old made his one-day international debut against India in 2004, scoring a half-century. His best ODI bowling performance to date came against Sri Lanka in 2008 when Tauqir took 2-47.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES FIXTURES
Thursday, February 19: Zimbabwe v United Arab Emirates, Saxton Oval, Nelson.
Wednesday, February 25: Ireland v United Arab Emirates, the Gabba, Brisbane.
Saturday, February 28: India v United Arab Emirates, WACA, Perth.
Wednesday, March 4: Pakistan v United Arab Emirates, McLean Park, Napier.
Thursday, March 12: South Africa v United Arab Emirates, Wellington Regional Stadium.
Sunday, March 15: West Indies v United Arab Emirates, McLean Park, Napier.