Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale
Khurram Khan is a man of willpower, and of determination. A purser with the Emirates airline, Khurram has been to Melbourne nearly a dozen times. He typically stays in a hotel that looks out directly at the MCG. You would think that Khurram, as a cricketer, would take a tour of the ground, or go to a sporting event there, get a glimpse at one of cricket's most famous venues.
But Khurram had other ideas. If he was going to see the ground at which Test cricket was born in 1877, he was going to do so on his merits, as a player. And on Wednesday, that patience will be rewarded. Khurram and his United Arab Emirates team-mates will walk onto the MCG to take on Australia in a World Cup warm-up match.
"It's a huge moment for me," Khurram said. "For my work commitments I used to come to Melbourne a lot of the time. I used to stay across the road. I've seen the MCG many times, but I've never walked into the stadium because I wanted to play there.
"It's going to be my first time walking into the stadium, although I've been here probably 10 times. I always thought if I'm going into the stadium I should be playing there. Thank God, tomorrow it's going to be fulfilled."
The World Cup is one of those rare times when the wider cricket world gets a glimpse of Associate nations. This year, Afghanistan are the romantic success story, Ireland the expected giant-killers, and Scotland the familiar faces occasionally seen before. UAE have slipped in without much attention, ready for their first World Cup since Sultan Zarawani led the side in 1996.
On Wednesday, men like Michael Clarke and Mitchell Johnson, earning pay cheques with many zeroes, will take on opponents with day jobs, who play cricket for the love of the game. They learnt a little about that in Sharjah in October, when UAE wicketkeeper and bank worker Saqlain Haider used his day off to fill in for Brad Haddin in a tour game ahead of the Australia-Pakistan Test series.
Khurram said that a normal day for most members of the UAE squad involved getting up around 6 or 7am to go to a day job, working 9 to 5, then heading to training, which for some players a is 100-kilometre drive. Then its three to four hours of training, drive back home, get to bed at midnight, and do it all again. This happens four or five days a week.
"It's a massive commitment," Khurram said.
But a worthwhile one, when the reward is to play in a World Cup. Khurram is 43, and describes his first World Cup as the icing on the cake of his career. UAE's coach Aaqib Javed, who won a World Cup playing for Pakistan in Australia in 1992, could not speak highly enough of Khurram, who is in fact older than the 42-year-old Aaqib.
"This guy next to me is a very special person," Aaqib said. "I haven't seen somebody playing like Khurram in their 40s. I think he's the best 43-year-old batsman I have ever seen. Top commitment, the perfect role model for any youngster. What the coach can do is a pre-plan, but execution is there on the ground. When he's there, I have no worries."
Last year Khurram, who is now the vice-captain, became the first man to score an ODI century for the UAE when he made an unbeaten 132 against Afghanistan in Dubai. He is the heart and soul of the UAE team, but far from its only player of note. Aaqib said there were perhaps half a dozen UAE players who might surprise outsiders in this tournament.
"Apart from Khurram we've got two really exciting openers, Amjad Ali and Andri Raffaelo [Berenger]," Aaqib said. "We've got quite a good balanced batting line-up, and one or two exceptional fast bowlers like Mohammad Naveed. I think people will definitely love him, he's a very exciting fast bowler. We've got Nasir Aziz, a very useful offspinner. I think these are the five or six players people will love to see."
After their warm-up against Australia, the UAE play another practice match against Afghanistan at the Junction Oval in Melbourne, before their first game of the tournament proper against Zimbabwe in Nelson. They then face Ireland, India, Pakistan, South Africa and West Indies, and Aaqib hopes his side might be able to cause one or two upsets.
"We know the challenges we will face, facing the top teams - speed, bounce, it's not very common back home in the UAE," Aaqib said. "So we've worked really hard on that, on the fielding and fitness.
"We've been doing really well at Associate level, but this is the next stage. We know there is a gap, but I think we can push really hard some of the international sides. There are phases in the game when the strongest teams give you a chance to sneak in and exploit the soft part of the game. This is the idea. We are here to play some hard cricket."