The UAE claimed the greatest scalp yet in the history of the beautiful game of cricket in the country as they beat the much fancied New Zealand at Dubai International Stadium on Saturday.
The touring side are ranked No 3 in the world, and they had played in the T20 World Cup Final at the same ground the last time they toured UAE two years ago.
And yet they were soundly beaten by a thriving young UAE side, who controlled the game from more or less start to finish. They sealed a seven-wicket win with over four overs to spare.
To add to the cheeriness, there were even people there to see it. The UAE have played in front of bigger crowds before, at Asia Cups, World Cups, and when they are facing cricket-mad Nepal. It is questionable whether they have ever had more home support than this, though.
It may have appeared diluted in the vastness of the 25,000-seater Dubai International Stadium, but it was a very appreciable turnout, well into four figures. And the loudest cheers were for the home team.
Admittedly, it was good natured in both directions. At one stage in the first innings, a handful of young children were sat on the railings on the boundary edge. They were wearing All Blacks rugby shirts, but waving UAE flags.
It was the first T20 win for the UAE in Dubai in their eighth attempt. A first win in any format over New Zealand in their third attempt. It was a day of historic firsts for UAE as they put on a stellar show to ease past New Zealand in the second T20I by seven wickets and level the three-match series 1-1. For New Zealand, it was their first loss in 39 matches against non-Test-playing nations across formats.
The win was set up by 17-year-old left-arm spinner Aayan Afzal Khan, who returned career-best figures of 3 for 20 to help UAE restrict New Zealand to 142 for 8. That the visitors reached there was down to Mark Chapman’s 46-ball 63 as only two other New Zealand batters got into the double-digits.
Muhammad Waseem then made sure UAE did not repeat the mistakes from the first T20I as he got the side off to a flyer, smoking a 29-ball 55. Asif Khan and Basil Hameed then kept their head to take UAE over the line with 26 balls to spare.Aayan’s best leaves New Zealand in trouble.
The second T20I was being played on the same surface as the first, which meant spinners were expected to make their presence felt. And sure enough, Waseem got Aayan into the game in the second over itself. He was pumped for a six by Seifert but returned strongly to claim back-to-back wickets. He first cleaned up Mitchell Santner, whose promotion to No. 3 didn’t quite go as per the plan. The very next ball, he sent back Dane Cleaver with a straighter one that kept low.
Aayan then brought his guile into play to account for Chad Bowes for a run-a-ball 21. With Bowes shaping up for a reverse sweep early, the spinner slowed it down and bowled outside off. The batter failed to connect, lost his balance and was stumped. That left New Zealand stumbling at 38 for 4 in the seventh over.
Chapman brings out his subcontinent experience
Chapman began his career playing for Hong Kong and has been brought up on a diet of white-ball cricket, playing spinners in subcontinent conditions. On a surface where the rest of the New Zealand batters struggled to get going, Chapman immediately found himself at home. He played a lot of his shots off the front foot than back, reaching to the pitch of the ball and accounting for the turn, something which the others failed to do.
He was watchful at the start, dealing in singles before targeting newbie Mohammed Faraazuddin, smacking him for two fours and a six across two overs. With momentum on his side, Chapman opened his shoulders a bit more. He pumped Zahoor Khan for back-to-back sixes to bring up his sixth T20I fifty before eventually falling in the final over.
Waseem props up UAE’s chase amid reprieves
New Zealand started their defence of 142 in a stunning fashion with James Neesham pulling off a screamer flinging himself to his right at first slip to remove Aryansh Sharma for a third-ball duck. The wicket also took Tim Southee level with Shakib Al Hasan for the most wickets in T20Is. However, Waseem, who fell for a first-ball duck in the opening T20I, ensured his team was ahead of the asking rate at most times.
Asif, Hameed shut out the noise
The difference between the first and second T20I was the composure with which the UAE batters went about their job. There were no panic stations when Waseem fell. Hameed came in and made sure to rotate the strike at every chance, while Asif also curbed his aggressive style of play to take UAE closer. Only when the required runs were in the 20s did Asif go about his shot-making.
He first clubbed Neesham for two fours in the 15th over before hacking Southee over long-on for a six. Fittingly, it was Asif who finished the game with two successive fours, leading to celebrations in the UAE camp.
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