World Cup berth a dream come true for Ahmed Raza
Raza produced a player of the match performance during UAE's 68-run win against Nepal on Tuesday, with the victory securing spot in this year's global tournament.
It puts another twist in Raza's rare cricketing tale, after the 33-year-old represented his country at the 2014 Men's ICC T20 World Cup, only to miss out on selection for the 50-over equivalent a year later.
Raza put the disappointment behind him and travelled to Australia as a fan to cheer on his UAE teammates during that 50-over World Cup in 2015, but now finds himself back on the big stage following a match-winning performance against Nepal in the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup Qualifier.
"The struggle has been real,” Raza told The National after the victory.
"The last time I went to a World Cup was in 2014 (the T20 World Cup in Bangladesh), and I didn’t make it to Australia in 2015. So this was very special and very emotional.
"It was surreal when everything was falling into place for us. I was thinking: the game is not over yet, the game is not over yet. At the back of my mind, I knew it was.
"In that moment, it felt like my life has come full circle now. Last time UAE played, I wasn’t in the squad, but I still went there.
"Life is taking me back there now, hopefully still as captain of UAE. I helped my team to qualify, and there are not many captains who have done that for UAE in the past.
"I feel part of an elite group now. It is a huge achievement, and it is a very emotional one because it has been a very long journey.”
Just which group the UAE end up in for the tournament in Australia will depend on how they fare in the Qualifier final against Ireland on Thursday.
The strong Irish team booked their place at the T20 World Cup with an impressive 56-run triumph over Oman on Tuesday and will enter Thursday's final on the back of three straight victories.
Ireland started the tournament with a narrow 18-run loss to the UAE, but the European side found form quickly to ensure they booked a seventh straight appearance at the T20 World Cup.
"I think our determination got us there today," Ireland captain Andy McBrine said after the victory.
"We knew at the start of the week we needed to win three games, and we’ve got better every match – and that’s what you need to do in tournament cricket.
"Our T20 cricket has been inconsistent, and to win three matches in a row we knew we’d have to be at our best – we managed to do that, and that was probably our best all-round performance.
"We lost a few early wickets, but Gareth Delany and Harry Tector’s partnership was world class.
"What impressed me was that they came out firing from ball one and didn’t just take their time to assess conditions – we’ve encouraged the batting group to back yourself and back your shots from the start, and they did that today."
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