by Michael Traill As one of only four associate teams to qualify for this year’s ICC World Cup, the United Arab Emirates are hoping to make a name for themselves as an emerging force in world cricket.Although cricket is already a popular sport among the United Arab Emirates’ large expatriate population, the Emirates Cricket Board now hopes the nation’s appearance in the 2015 ICC World Cup will strengthen the sport’s following in the country. The World Cup now underway in Australia and New Zealand is only the second time the UAE has qualified for the tournament. They last qualified almost two decades ago when the tournament was held in the subcontinent in 1996. Speaking at the conclusion of a tour of Murdoch University’s Sports Science facilities, Mr Mazhar Khun, a UAE Cricket Board administrator, described the popularity of domestic cricket. “The game has really grown, the number of (local) teams has gone up, clubs have gotten better, and there are now school teams and junior teams being established,” he said. “There has been a huge progression in the sport since 1996. There is now interest from corporate companies a lot of companies have cricketers on their payroll to keep them playing in the UAE. We are hoping within the next five years we’ll have professional cricketers in the UAE.” “We’ve already noticed an increase in the awareness of sport, and there’s no question that the visibility of this (the World Cup) will have a positive impact on the sport when we return from this tour,” explained David East, Chief Executive of the Emirates Cricket Board. “I’m very confident that this World Cup will be a great platform to move cricket forward in the UAE to the next level. It’s already at a high standard but we want to take it further. You only get better by playing teams that are better than you.” The International Cricket Council’s headquarters and Pakistan’s national team are both based in Dubai, which gives the UAE an opportunity to have access to world class facilities and teams to compete against. “We are trying to organise one day games and T20 matches between Pakistan and England in October when England comes to tour Pakistan as this will help us test our boys against full member countries,” said Mazhar Khun. Mr Khun said the UAE Board was also interested in exploring possibilities for player development with Murdoch University’s Dubai campus. The UAE opened their World Cup account with strong performances against the more established teams of Ireland and Zimbabwe. Last week, they suffered a heavy loss to title defenders India at the WACA and now must win their remaining games against Pakistan, South Africa and the West Indies for a chance to progress to the knock-out stage of the tournament.