Muscat – He has seen the highs and lows of Oman Cricket over the past many decades. Taking over a legacy left by Late Kanak Khimji, first president of Oman Cricket, he has been the fulcrum around which the sport has grown in the Sultanate of Oman. Today, Pankaj Khimji, the chairman of Oman Cricket (OC), is one of the most respected administrators in world cricket.
As the national team prepares for their biggest test ever, Khimji is filled with pride as he speaks about the team’s journey to the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier, which will be played in Zimbabwe from June 18-July 9.
Khimji said: “We have been playing consistent cricket over the past eight years at the Associate level. Gone are the days when our team used to struggle in conditions overseas or while facing other Associate nations on the road.
“Today, it is a new Oman. It is no longer the squad of 2005 and 2009 (the previous occasions when Oman competed in the World Cup Qualifier) when the players faced totally a new ball game while playing abroad as we did not even have a turf pitch then.
“We are now a seasoned team and one of the most respected teams among the Associate nations. Since our maiden qualification for the 2016 T20 World Cup in 2015, our boys haven’t looked back. Today, there isn’t any team we haven’t defeated in the Associate world.”
Khimji, who is also the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) vice-president, said: “Our team is in good hands under Duleep Mendis. The coaching staff of Avishkar Salvi [bowling coach] and Evert Laubscher [assistant coach] have worked hard with Duleep to get our boys ready for this important mission.
“We have some of the best players in Associate cricket, be it one of the best pace bowlers or the best allrounder or batters who are among the top-ten. Leading from the front is classy Zeeshan Maqsood. I believe we have a good chance in the Qualifier in Zimbabwe.”
Oman face a challenging hurdle in their quest to make it to their first ICC Cricket World Cup later this year in India.
They along with nine other nations vie for the two available slots in Zimbabwe. Besides Oman, the other teams in Group B are World Cup winners Sri Lanka, Ireland, Scotland and the UAE. Group A comprises Zimbabwe, Netherlands, two-time winners West Indies, United States and Nepal.
On the team’s prospects, Khimji said: “We have a good chance of making to the Super Six. Having played through the gruelling 36-match cycle in the ICC Cricket World Cup League 2, our players are well-prepared. There is an excitement among players of taking on full-member nations and big teams and they are not overawed.
“We should be able to finish in the top half of the table and get into the next stage. I am confident and I couldn’t have asked for a better team to achieve it. The bunch of players are a motivated lot and are carrying the momentum of their excellent display in Cricket World Cup League 2 where we finished second.”
Khimji, who met the players before their departure, urged his boys to give it all and go into the Qualifier with determination.
He told the players: “Once for all, give it your all. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. There is nothing easy at this level. Go into each match with a positive mindset.”
Khimji added: “At this stage, it is time for team and players to produce something special. We have a good set of all-rounders and that is an advantage. Our skipper Shani [Zeeshan Maqsood] is our trump card. The top-order batters of the likes of Jatinder Singh, Kashyap Prajapati, Aqib Ilyas and Shoaib Khan have clicked in recent times and the pace bowling department led by Bilal Khan and Kaleemullah have been exceptional. With Fayyaz Butt and spinners our squad is quite balanced.”
Khimji, who is also advisor for foreign trade and international cooperation with the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Investment Promotion, said: “A bold and positive attitude and approach towards every game in Zimbabwe is important. They have reached this stage after a fantastic performance in Cricket World Cup League 2. That momentum has also helped us during the build-up camp in Durban, South Africa, where we won four of the five matches. The boys are in a good frame of mind for Zimbabwe.”
Khimji said: “Continuity in cricket for the Oman team even during the pandemic was a key component in the team’s good performance in Cricket World Cup League 2.”
He said: “Despite the challenges where players lost their jobs during COVID-19 times, Oman Cricket stood by their players and helped them. We looked after the players and their families and the players are happy with the support received.
“We have got the blessings of our patron-in-chief, His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al Said, and the constant support of His Highness Sayyid Theyazin bin Haitham, the Minister of Culture, Sports and Youth, and the ministry. We successfully hosted the ICC T20 World Cup in 2021 and then the Legends Super League. We have some of the best facilities and turf ground among Associate nations and all these developments have kept cricket in focus. We now hope the boys will deliver at the big stage and complete a successful mission.”