The big question is can the UAE make it five in a row. They haven’t lost a single match in the ACC Trophy since 2000 and are firm favourites going into the 2008 competition in Malaysia.

UAE Captain Khurram Khan, who has played in three of those winning campaigns, says “We aren’t taking any of the opponents lightly but we have an excellent all-round side and even though our opponents’ standards have undoubtedly improved, so have ours.

UAE fresh from an Asia Cup outing in Pakistan against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are up against the following:

AFGHANISTAN: Packed with talent and strong in batting, bowling and desire to succeed, Afghanistan are rated by many as being the one team capable of defeating the UAE. Led by ‘Iceman’ spin-bowling all-rounder Nowroz Mangal and backed up by the pace of Hamid Hassan and all-round abilities of Mohammad Nabi, (who have both played for the MCC) Afghanistan have quality in the right areas. All but a few in the squad are true all-rounders – none more so Karim Khan Sadiq who bowls pace and off-spin, opens the batting and keeps wicket.

BAHRAIN: Finding their way back into the top-flight of ACC competition after a period in the wilderness, Bahrain may not yet quite be back at their 2006 ACC Trophy best when they lost a close quarter-final to Nepal. That year they also won the ACC Middle East Cup beating Afghanistan in the Final. Many of those players from 2006 (as with Afghanistan) are back in 2008.

HONG KONG: Like UAE fresh from the Asia Cup, where their spinners had Pakistan at 161 for 7 at one stage and also troubled India’s batsmen, Hong Kong are quietly confident of being able to repeat their 2006 ACC Trophy performance where they reached the Final. A pedigree side with an optimal blend of youth and experience it just may be their spinners who again do the job for them on Malaysian wickets.

KUWAIT: Kuwait show flashes of absolute brilliance with bat and ball and in the field but are never quite able to sustain their form throughout a match let alone a tournament. Still, they are never to be discounted and play a most enterprising brand of cricket. The oldest player in the competition is in their squad, Javed Mohammed at 46, as well as the youngest, Saad Khalid at 17. They have a side packed with all-rounders.

MALAYSIA: Malaysia have emerged from a period of rebuilding with a team which could seriously challenge for top honours in the tournament. Hardy perennials remain: off-spinning all-rounder Rohan Suppiah, opener Rakesh Madhavan, pace-bowling all-rounders Krishnamurthi  and Suresh Navaratnam; they are bolstered by the rising talent of batsmen Darvin Muralitharan and ICC U/19 World Cup captain Ahmed Faiz as well as former Sri Lankan ‘A’ international Priyankara Wickramasinghe. Wickramasinghe is a leg-spinning all-rounder who qualified for Malaysia just last month.

NEPAL: A settled squad captained by Binod Das filled with familiar faces promises much, as ever. There won’t be a better fielding side in the competition nor one as gutsy. But there has been an increasing awareness by their opponents that Nepal lack just that extra bit of explosiveness necessary to win against strong teams. A crafty, classy unit and more than capable of going all the way.

QATAR: Batting talent in bundles in this side – from openers Omer Taj and Muhammad Jahangir to teen tyro Tamoor Sajjad and middle-order maulers Saleem Akhtar and Rusharat Ali. Their bowling is steady if not penetrative. Their fielding and general level of fitness have let them down in the past. An ‘on their day’ team and on those days capable of mixing it with the best.

SAUDI ARABIA: They set the 2006 ACC Trophy alight with their power-hitting and look capable of doing the same again this year. Sarfraz Ahmed returns at Number 3 and he goes in after one of the potential stars of the tournament, opener Hammad Saeed. Abid Naseem bats at 4 and will anchor the innings but it may just be their young left-arm spinner Ijaz Sagheer who wins them matches. He impresses on concrete back home, on Malaysia turf his flight, guile, loop and turn will be a handful.

SINGAPORE: Blending nationalised expatriates and home-grown talent, youth and maturity they have cricketers strong in both head and heart. And they can play a bit. With a convincing win over eventual winners of ICC World Cricket League Division 5 Afghanistan earlier this year, Singapore are more than capable of confirming their substantial promise in this year’s ACC Trophy.

UAE: You look at this side’s batting: Arshad Ali, Amjad Ali, Saqib Ali, Khurram Khan - and you see hundreds of runs. Left-handed wicket-keeper/opener Amjad was the only batsman at the 2008 Asia Cup to play Ajantha Mendis with any confidence (off the 10 balls he received from Mendis, Amjad hit 16 runs) and he and his Lara-like backlift are likely to provide some of  the tournament’s most remarkable sights.
You look at this side’s batting and you see dozens of wickets: pace-bowler Zahid Shah was second only to Ajantha Mendis in the Asia Cup averages and he is backed-up by an excellent all-round attack with plenty of variety.

UAE are still the team to beat and it will take a mighty performance from their opponents to topple them from their lofty perch.

There will be regular score updates for every match throughout the tournament, with ball-by-ball text commentary of the Final on August 3, stating at 10 AM local time (0200 GMT) everyday.


Filed July 11, 2008