UAE determined to keep smiling
UAE are one happy side having the time of their lives, a bunch of amateurs playing a World Cup. A lot is spoken about team bonding and enjoying training but UAE were infectiously bubbly on Friday morning at the WACA.
Not many international sides play pass the frisbee, possibly none have so much fun while at it. They moved on to a relay walk with three players hurrying around a small circle. Each time a player was deemed to have tried running, he had to go down on the ground, get up and resume. By the end, it had become so ridiculous that the rest of the players ran up to the guys still on the walk and enveloped them in bear hugs. Wicketkeeper Swapnil Patil was teased constantly by his team-mates from the dressing room as he did a video interview outside. It was a merry dressing room, laughter ringing out often as jokes were cracked.
And then the big boys of the cricket world descended onto the WACA. Team director Ravi Shastri, striding with a no-nonsense expression, led the Indians into the dressing room next to UAE's. "Please ensure there is no media interaction," a security guard said to another as the Indian players followed, their demeanor blank and business-like. It was a sudden, uneasy, forced calm outside, but the smiles in the UAE dressing room were intact.
"We know they are big stars, but we will take this game like the previous two games," UAE captain Mohammad Tauqir said. "This intensity is going to be the same, and we'll take it like just another game. We will not be intimidated by their names or their status."
Big words from a 43-year old appointed captain because his board wanted an Emirati instead of a Pakistani to lead the side in a world event. But UAE come into this match on the back of strong performances against Ireland and Zimbabwe, knowing that a tighter showing in the field might have given them two wins in two.
"The Zimbabwe game was close. The Ireland game was even closer, so we are getting closer to the win," Tauqir said. "We know we're playing well. We need to finish now and get over this line and win this."
Seeing the players get along the way they did during practice, it was easy to forget that this is a side made up of several players who moved to their adopted country for better career opportunities, especially from Pakistan, and also India. UAE will be facing both sides in the World Cup, and that will be some experience for the players who hail from those nations, and had hopes of representing them at some point in the past. Patil's brother, for instance, has been quoted as saying that while he will want Swapnil to do well, he will definitely be supporting India. Tauqir was asked whether it was difficult getting players from such diverse origins to function as a team.
"Absolutely not. That is not an issue in the dressing room. I mean, if you look at UAE, it's a very cosmopolitan country, more than 60, 70 nationalities living there. Most of these boys have lived there for over 10, 15 years and UAE is like a home for them, so that's not an issue at all. We're all one team, and we're enjoying the whole in this dressing room as a team effort."
Impressive as UAE were against Ireland and Zimbabwe, it is India who are the first big opponents they run into at the World Cup. Tauqir said that his side were far from getting overawed at the prospect of facing MS Dhoni and his men.
"Mentally everybody is very, very calm. We're not getting emotional by the situation, so we're taking it easy, doing the basics right and enjoying the game."
Enjoyment is the word for UAE at the moment.
Abhishek Purohit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo