Oman’s inspiring cricket journey
Oman’s meteoric rise in international cricket took the world by surprise, much like Afghanistan’s. It all began during the Asian Cricket Council T20 Cup.
Oman entered the World T20 2016 qualifier as the underdog, was ranked 16th in the world and was up against some of the Associate heavyweights. With nothing to lose, Oman played for the thrill of the game.
After suffering an early defeat at the hands of Kenya, Oman went on to beat the much experienced Netherlands, Afghanistan and Namibia as they did just enough to secure qualification for the play-offs ahead of more seasoned sides such as Nepal and the United Arab Emirates.
Their win over higher-ranked tournament favourites, Namibia, sealed Oman’s ticket to India and also secured T20 international status for the next four years. They could finally begin to dream.
The team surpassed all expectations that had risen as a result of their entrance into the tournament. Their success is aided primarily by a strong and deep batting line-up that is led by Jatinder Singh who ended the tournament as the third highest run-scorer with 213 runs in four innings. Oman is brimming with bowlers in their bowling department. Players such as Munis Ansari and Ajay Lalcheta add great variety to their bowling attack.
Leg-spinner, Lalcheta, is usually used as an attacking option by captain Sultan Ahmed during power play overs in which he is often asked to open the bowling. Ansari emerged as the leader of the pack in the same tournament during which he took 12 wickets. Ansari made headlines during the tournament due to his slingy action, reminiscent of Lasith Malinga, and even managed to get a hat-trick thrice during the tournament.
Oman, in its quest to reach the top, reached Bangladesh to challenge Hong Kong, UAE and Afghanistan for a place in the Asia Cup. Oman began the qualifiers on a high, defeating Hong Kong in a nail-biting encounter. After giving Hong Kong a mammoth 181-run target, Oman managed to keep the opposition at bay and seal a narrow five run win on their Asia Cup debut despite some heroics from Babar Hayat who scored 122 from 60 balls. After winning their opening match, Oman lost to Afghanistan and UAE and failed to qualify for the main round of the Asia Cup. While poor display in the fielding department cost them some key match-defining chances, Oman managed to unearth Bilal Khan who shined with the new ball and moved with the ball at good pace.
With nine Pakistan-born players and five Indian-born players, Oman, like Hong Kong and United Arab Emirates, is often categorised as a mini subcontinent team that often spills cold water on its achievements. After already having roped former England all-rounder Derek Pringle as their new technical adviser, Oman have now engaged former Indian left-arm spinner Sunil Joshi and Sri Lankan all-rounder Rumesh Ratnayake to help them prepare for future tournaments.
After being given full international status, Oman will receive extra ICC funding that will allow them to improve training facilities. Pitches are primarily made of astro turf and floodlights were recently installed at a revamped ground in Muscat. However, for a country like Oman, funding is not as serious a concern as promoting the game amongst locals. While setting long-term objectives for Oman, authorities must consider growth of the game at grassroots level. In a country where the main players are still predominantly Indian and Pakistani expats, the cricket administration needs to establish a framework which pulls in local players as well. Oman should take the lead from Afghanistan who has slowly and steadily developed a proper domestic structure that is constantly producing technically correct players rather than one season wonders.
Oman’s cricket team has great potential, as seen in the Asia T20 Cup, all they require is consistent practice and a revamped domestic structure in order to compete with bigwigs on an international level.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.