United Arab Emirates (UAE) captain Khurram Khan believes the time is right for cricket in the Emirates to make a long-awaited comeback from the heights it attained when they made it to the 1996 World Cup in the subcontinent.
Khurram, the 37-year-old allrounder, said preparations were "going well" for the World Cup Qualifier (WCQs) in South Africa from April 1-19. "We started a couple of months ago with our new coach (former Sussex and England batsman) Colin Wells and the guys are shaping up very well. We have some new players, some youngsters in the team so it looks good for the future as well but we are ready now," he said.
Asked about their aspirations going into the big event, considering the relative strength of some of the other competing teams, Khurram said, "Our goal is to qualify for the World Cup. We have played against some of the teams such as Ireland, Scotland, Netherlands and others - they are very good teams but we are going well.
"We have played some practice matches and we are also involved in the Emirates Airline Pro Arch Trophy against six English county teams taking place in the UAE. I'm sure the other teams are working hard but our preparations are going well too."
Khurram also said the sport should continue to be promoted in the UAE. "I think cricket will grow in the UAE, especially if we qualify for the World Cup. The ICC moving here is also a boost for cricket in the UAE as is the completion of the cricket stadium in Dubai Sports City and the ICC Global Cricket Academy. So cricket is developing here day by day.
"Cricket has a huge following in the UAE especially if you take the big expatriate populations from places like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. For locals it's not the No. 1 sport but there are many local people who play the game and that number is increasing," he said.
UAE are in Group B which includes Bermuda, Kenya, Netherlands, Afghanistan, and Denmark and they open their campaign against Bermauda in Potchefstroom on April 1.
They qualified for the 1996 edition after winning the ICC Trophy (as it was then known) in 1993-94, defeating Kenya in the final. There was plenty of drama in the last qualifiers, when they narrowly missed out on making it to the 2007 tournament in West Indies when the lost to Netherlands in the fifth-sixth playoff match, thereby missing out on the last qualification spot.