Far from the cavernous MCG, where they played a warm-up match against Australia last week, the UAE will begin their World Cup campaign in the small New Zealand city of Nelson on Thursday. The fans at the Saxton Oval will largely sit on grass banks or in temporary stands, lending a low-key air to the fixture against Zimbabwe. But make no mistake, it will be a big occasion for the UAE cricketers: the country’s first World Cup match for nearly 20 years. Their aim is to knock off a couple of good teams in the pool stage of this tournament, but judging by Zimbabwe’s efforts against South Africa the UAE will be up against it.
Zimbabwe’s opener in Hamilton was an encouraging affair for them. At stages in both their batting and bowling innings, it looked like they might get on top of the strong South African outfit. The difference was the astonishing 111 that South Africa plundered from their last six overs. But there were enough signs of encouragement on offer, and in their warm-up win over Sri Lanka, for Zimbabwe to enter this game full of confidence.
The past couple of World Cups have been difficult for Zimbabwe, but they had big wins in 2011 in their two games against Associate nations, Canada and Kenya. They should open their 2015 account in this match, but as Ireland showed here against West Indies, Associates are not to be under-estimated.
(last five matches, most recent first)
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In the spotlight
The oldest player in the World Cup, Khurram Khan’s importance to the UAE cannot be overstated. He is the country’s leading run scorer and wicket taker of all time in ODIs, and until last month was the captain as well. A purser with the Emirates airline, Khurram is older than the coach Aaqib Javed, who was part of Pakistan’s 1992 World Cup-winning squad; Khurram is playing in his first World Cup at 43. His 86 in the warm-up against Afghanistan in Melbourne was an encouraging sign.
Hamilton Masakadza might have slipped under the radar in the list of players to watch at this World Cup, but his form over the past two matches has been as impressive as anyone’s. Against Sri Lanka in Zimbabwe’s surprise warm-up win he struck an unbeaten 117, and his 80 from 74 balls against South Africa kept Zimbabwe in the game in their World Cup opener in Hamilton. The UAE bowlers will need to get him cheaply.
The UAE’s batting line-up was reasonably settled in their warm-ups, and the attack should largely choose itself. Neither Manjula Guruge nor Fahad Alhashmi took part in the two practice games, so will likely be left out, and Kamran Shazad’s only involvement was bowling nine reasonably expensive overs against Afghanistan.
UAE (possible) 1 Amjad Ali, 2 Andri Berenger, 3 Krishna Chandran, 4 Khurram Khan, 5 Swapnil Patil (wk), 6 Shaiman Anwar, 7 Rohan Mustafa, 8 Mohammad Naveed, 9 Amjad Javed, 10 Mohammad Tauqir (capt), 11 Nasir Aziz.
Zimbabwe may decide that a team that had South Africa 83 for 4, and then went on to score 277 is best not altered. Their seam bowlers might struggled once David Miller and JP Duminy got going, but should fare better against the UAE. “Our team is quite balanced when it comes to batting and bowling, so it’s just polishing up where it went wrong in the first game,” captain Elton Chigumbura said.
Zimbabwe (possible) 1 Chamu Chibhabha, 2 Sikandar Raza, 3 Hamilton Masakadza, 4 Brendan Taylor (wk), 5 Sean Williams, 6 Craig Ervine, 7 Elton Chigumbura (capt), 8 Solomon Mire, 9 Tinashe Panyangara, 10 Tendai Chatara, 11 Tafadzwa Kamungozi.
Pitch and conditions
The Ireland-West Indies game was high-scoring, with both sides making more than 300. The small ground and fast outfield should be conducive to another high-scoring encounter. The forecast for Thursday is for a sunny day and a top of 25C.
Stats and trivia
Zimbabwe and the UAE have never met in an ODI, but they did play a T20 international against each other last March: Zimbabwe enjoyed a comfortable five-wicket win
Elton Chigumbura is three wickets away from 100 in ODIs, although his tally for Zimbabwe is only 91; six of his wickets came playing for Africa XI
Both umpires will be making their World Cup debuts: Chris Gaffaney of New Zealand and Johan Cloete of South Africa
“We are looking forward to at least having a couple of wins against Test nations, that’s what we are targeting.”
Mohammad Tauqir, the UAE captain, on his country’s aims for this World Cup
“The result didn’t go our way but there’s a lot of positives we can take from that first game.”
Elton Chigumbura, the Zimbabwe captain, sees reasons for optimism after the loss to South Africa