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July 21, 2008
Saqib Ali, who captained United Arab Emirates in the Asia Cup in Pakistan, feels the team needs to play at least 'A' teams from the top countries in order to improve. Saqib has been replaced as captain by Khurram Khan for the upcoming ACC Trophy in Malaysia, but said he wasn't unhappy at being replaced by a senior.
Though stating Bangladesh "were beatable", Saqib felt their experience at the top level has aided their development. UAE qualified for the World Cup in 1996 - Bangladesh did so in 1999 and became a Test-playing nation soon after, regularly playing the top sides.
"We played positively against them [in the Asia Cup] and tried hard but could not beat them," Saqib told Gulfnews. "For the last four or five years they have been playing against very strong teams like Australia and South Africa. This is showing in their performance."
UAE lost both their group matches - against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka - in the tournament and failed to make it to the second round. Saqib admitted his team were tensed when they walked out to face Sri Lanka. "The fact that they all are experienced players was in the back of our minds," he said. "But once we were on the field and got used to the conditions, we felt it was not a big deal to play against such a strong team."
There were nerves in the camp as well, given their lack of exposure. "Eight members of our team were making their one-day international debuts," he said. "Only Arshad Ali, Khurram Khan and Mohammad Tauqir had played in one-dayers. Even I was making my one-day debut."
He felt the batting was a disappointment during the tournament, with only Khurram and wicketkeeper Amjad Ali managing fifties for the team. "Our strong point is our batting strength but we did not click," he said. "To be honest our batsmen, including myself, could not get enough runs. Our middle order failed. It was disappointing. We hope to learn from this failure and do better next time."
Given the amateur profile of the squad, Saqib said it was difficult to find adequate time to train ahead of the six-nation event. "We could have trained more but all our players are employed and it is not possible to train hard," he said. "We always come for practice after working the whole day. We are not professionals, like the Sri Lankan and Bangladesh players. They have nothing else to do but only play.
"Everyone knows that professional cricketers eat, drink and sleep cricket. He will not have any tension about work," he said. "We get to train only after office hours. We train till late into the night, then early morning we rush for work. Then, we drive through the heavy traffic to return for practice. Sometimes, by the time we reach, we are fagged out. It's because of our passion for the game we train hard and give our best."
The ten-nation ACC Trophy starts on July 25, and concludes on August 3. UAE, who have won the tournament on the last four occasions, are in the same group alongside Afghanistan, Bahrain, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.