Muscat – Once upon a time in Oman, cricket was mainly played by visiting navy crew on dirt grounds. On October 17, it will host the opening match of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021, where the country’s impressive cricket outfit will look to make waves.
Ahead of the tournament opener at the lush-green and spruced up Oman Cricket Academy Ground in Al Amerat on the outskirts of Muscat, here is a look at the rise of cricket in Oman, and in turn Oman’s rise in cricket.
Suffice to say, cricket in the country has seen transformative change. And much of that change stems from the dreams of Late Kanaksi Khimji.
The founding chairman of the Oman Cricket (OC) in 1979, Kanaksi was the forefather of the sport in his country, and in turn, the national team we see turning out today. Overseeing every cricketing development in the country, Kanaksi was presented the ICC Lifetime Service Award in 2011. Kanaksi sadly passed away in February, but not before Oman Cricket Ground Academy was approved as a ICC Test venue.
Kanaksi’s son Pankaj Khimji, a long term member of the Oman Cricket (OC), has stepped up to take the reins. Given the responsibility of co-hosting this year’s T20 World Cup, Oman will be the epicentre of cricket this month alongside the UAE.
And the jewel in the nation’s cricket crown will take glowing centre stage, with the academy facility hosting Group B matches in the first round. A total of six matches will be played in Oman from October 17-21.
Oman’s responsibility to co-host the tournament is a testament to their backroom professionalism, though it’s their quality on the field that makes them worthy World Cup combatants.
The national team has seen a meteoric rise comparable only with Afghanistan.
From ICC Affiliate membership in 2000 and Associate Membership in 2014, Oman were playing in Division Five of the ICC World Cricket League as recently as 2016.
Miraculously, that year they qualified to play in the T20 World Cup in India, where they won their first match on tournament debut against Ireland. They have continued to take strides since, getting ODI status in 2019.
Oman return for the second time in a row to the T20 World Cup stage five years on from their tournament debut, primed by high-pressure Associate international cricket.
The final team to book their ticket for the tournament at the 2019 Qualifier, the men in red were not consistent through the campaign but held their nerve at a tense business end. Finishing second in their group, Oman, coached by Sri Lankan great Duleep Mendis took on Namibia in the semifinal playoff of the Qualifier but fell short.
With only the top-six at the Qualifier going through to the T20 World Cup, Oman found themselves in a sudden-death playoff against Hong Kong and came up clutch, winning by 12 runs in a defence of 134.
For keen observers of the emerging game, Oman’s yo-yoing form at the Qualifier was nothing new. Capable of beating almost anyone at their best, consistency has been hard to find, particularly in the shortest format. Since attaining T20I status in 2015, Oman have lost 19 of their 36 international matches, with the triumph of two wins over Ireland contrasted by a shock home defeat to Qatar in February 2020.
To make it far in this T20 World Cup they’ll need to find the key to consistency. Given the surprise of home ground advantage, maybe, just maybe, they can.
Zeeshan Maqsood (c), Aqib Ilyas, Jatinder Singh, Khawar Ali, Mohammad Nadeem, Ayaan Khan, Suraj Kumar, Sandeep Goud, Nester Dhamba, Kaleemullah, Bilal Khan, Naseem Khushi, Sufyan Mehmood, Fayyaz Butt, Khurram Khan.
Beaten by the Scots at the Qualifier in 2019, Oman’s re-match with them at the World Cup on home soil is the last game of Group B, and will most likely decide who progresses to the Super 12 phase of the
tournament. A match promising high scores, the result could come down to which bowling attack can keep their cool at the death.
OMAN AT T20 WORLD CUP
Best finish: First Round (2016)
Oman caused the first upset of the 2016 tournament, chasing down a target of 155 against Ireland with two wickets in hand and two balls to spare. Despite the early kickstart to their campaign they failed to reach the next stage as rain prevented a match against the Netherlands before they were brought undone by Bangladesh, losing by 54 runs (DLS).