That home team currently resides in the Intercontinental Cup and World Cricket League Championship. This marks something of a decline for a team that, just seven years after they joined the ICC in 1989, played in the 1996 World Cup. They didn't disgrace themselves either, defeating the Netherlands to stay off the bottom of their group. Two years earlier, the UAE side had already made ODI outings in the 1994 Australasia Cup. Then, as now, the side was stocked mostly with ex-pats like Mazhar Hussain, Arshad Laeeq and Saleem Raza, all of whom had played at first-class level in Pakistan before emigrating.
Now, the core of the team is still stocked with ageing ex-pats like Saqib Ali, Khurram Khan and Arshad Ali. All of them have represented the UAE with distinction, but at the ages of 35, 42 and 37 respectively, they aren't getting any younger. The first to fade seems to have been Saqib Ali, whose runscoring diminished last year to the extent that he lost his once-permanent place in the side. Khurram, however, continues to excel despite his advancing years, although how for long he can continue to do so is unclear, and the same also applies to Arshad. The future for the Emirates cricket team is equally hazy, as out of the next generation of players, only Swapnil Patil has so far made a significant impact, and he is already nearing his thirties.
The UAE has been a strong Associate, mostly thanks to veteran ex-pats.
The UAE have historically been a batting side, particularly suited to the longer format. A perusal of their players reveal first-class batting averages of 55 (Swapnil Patil), 53 (Saqib Ali), 42 (Khurram Khan) and 41 (Arshad Ali) which, regardless of your opinion of the quality of oppositions such as Bermuda and Namibia, who have counted as first-class opposition, are impressive numbers. One man who is missing from that list is Shaiman Anwar, a talented right hander who has come of age impressively in the last eighteen months.
The back-up batsmen, however, aren't quite so impressive. Aside from Swapnil Patil, the youngest of the aforementioned batsmen is 34-year-old Anwar. The next generation of batsmen, as of yet, do not have a run to share between them, and in five years, this could hint at a much weaker line-up. While the current players may be able to earn qualification for Australia in 2015, and may even be able to last until then, but there is also a risk that they may not. Arab cricket does not seem to have a plan B.
Khurram Khan could probably have played Test cricket, had things gone differently for him in his native Pakistan, but instead his cricketing career started in earnest at almost 34 years of age when he first represented the UAE. He had made up for lost time in impressive fashion, and next year will have played in the grey kit of his country for a decade. He has been worthy of his place as either a batsman or bowler alone, and as both at once, as well as a leader of men who can make a team play better than the sum of its parts.
Personally, I have found it difficult to find real evidence regarding domestic cricket in the UAE. However, I have seen that one of their top domestic competitions has been able to lure in the lucrative talent of Pakistan all-rounder Shahid Afridi, and having someone of his calibre around can only be inspirational for young cricketers. Out of all of the billions of dollars floating around the Emirates, some of them have to find their way to cricket, simply by a process of elimination and the laws of averages (and evidenced in the shiny stadia dotted around the place). I can't see much evidence of hard work at the bottom of the pyramid, though, in schools and clubs, and this will only result in more sides full of ex-pats that, while they may bring success, may not bring global respect.
With little apparent visibility of grass roots cricket, potential young players in the UAE will have little opportunity to refine their skills. Those who are more determined, like Abdul Rehman, Fahad Alashmi and Naeemuddin Aslam, successfully found their way to the national set-up at a relatively young age, but they are firmly in the minority. The "home-grown quota" introduced in 2008 was helpful to the cause of such young players, but now with no World Cup to look forward to past 2015, there's little reason for them to strive anyhow.
Next week, I look at a nation that has worked hard to progress, and is doing so: Nigeria. That article will be next Thursday, because I will be watching, and possibly playing against, Nigeria on the regular Wednesday slot. Until next week.