SAR ready to avenge Emirate's 'second rate' jibe
Alvin Sallay in Sharjah
The gauntlet has been thrown, smack in Hong Kong's face, by Saeed Al Saffar, the captain of the United Arab Emirates who has labelled the SAR team second rate.
'We have beaten a better side than Hong Kong in the semi-finals. Our chances of beating Hong Kong in the final is very good,' said Al Saffar soon after his team had defeated Malaysia by six wickets in the semi-final.
That remark has been taken as a slur on their ability by the Hong Kong team. Steely-eyed Stewart Brew and his boys will now be going all out to prove Al Saffar wrong and his view as utter rubbish when the two sides meet in the final of the Asian Cricket Council Trophy today.
'It is an odd comment to make considering that we beat Malaysia more easily than they did,' said Glyn Davies, Hong Kong manager. 'They also seemed to have struggled harder to win against lesser sides than we have.'
So the interest has been kept alive for the final which was expected to be an anti-climax after both Hong Kong and the UAE had achieved their main objective of qualifying for next year's Asia Cup in Pakistan by virtue of reaching the final here.
'This has given us another reason to win the final. Obviously they will be going in with a lot of expectations and will be favourites as they are playing on their home ground and will have lots of support. But we will be giving it our best shot,' said Davies.
The universal feeling is that UAE have only to turn up to win. Even TV commentator Aamir Sohail discarded his role of impartiality and tipped the UAE.
'The UAE are better equipped for the final than Hong Kong,' said Sohail in a comment that was telecast to millions in Asia. Hong Kong's reputation is at stake now and the pressure will be on as they come out in front of the ESPN-STAR Sports cameras today.
It should be a clash of the batsmen: Hong Kong's Rahul Sharma versus UAE's Al Saffar; Brew against Kashif Khan; Saleem Malik versus Asim Saeed. A delicious battle is on the cards.
The biggest worry for Hong Kong is the form of fast bowler Mohammed Zubair and a niggling shoulder injury which opener Malik is carrying. Zubair has completely lost his line and has extravagantly conceded wides. He has taken a measly four wickets in four matches. There has even been talk in the Hong Kong camp of dropping him for the final.
Coach Adam Hollioake is not expected to go that far when he picks his final XI this morning. Undoubtedly disappointed with the wayward bowling of his main strike bowler, it is expected that Hong Kong will continue with Zubair.
'If he comes good, he could be a match-winner,' said Davies yesterday. 'He had a good bowling session in the nets yesterday and I hope he will be able to find his line.'
As far as Hong Kong are concerned, winning today would be a bonus. Bigger now, after UAE's unilateral declaration of war.