Warm welcome to Oman cricketers

Oman cricket team members along with the OC officials at the Muscat International Airport on Saturday (Rodolfo Alfonso/Muscat Daily)

The newly-crowned ACC Twenty20 Cup champion Oman team was accorded a rapturous welcome at the Muscat International Airport on their arrival from UAE on Saturday morning.

Oman beat Kuwait by 11 runs in Sharjah, UAE, to clinch the title on Friday and with it also qualified for the ICC World Twenty20 qualifiers, which will be held in Ireland and Scotland from July 6-26. Oman finished with eight points from five matches, tied with Kuwait on points but clinched the title on better run-rate.

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Pankaj Khimji (right) holds the winner’s trophy with Jamil Zaidi

Coached by former Sri Lankan star Duleep Mendis, Oman will join other Asian nations like Afghanistan, Hong Kong, Nepal and UAE along with other associate teams for the world qualifiers in July.

A total of 14 teams will vie for the six available berths for the 2016 ICC World Twenty20 Cup in India. The other confirmed nations so far for the qualifiers are The Netherlands, Scotland and Papua New Guinea.

On Saturday, a large number of fans, family members and Oman Cricket (OC) board members including the chairman, Kanak Khimji, welcomed the team with sweets, bouquets and garlands. It was the second ACC T20 title for Oman, the previous title coming in 2007 as joint winner with Afghanistan.

Big push needed now: Pankaj Khimji
Speaking to Muscat Daily at the airport on Saturday, Pankaj Khimji, a senior OC board member said, “It is an outstanding achievement and we are proud of the team. It was a result of allround efforts put in by players, officials and other support staff.”

“We now have to plan out our next step as it is important to carry on the good work. Our target is to qualify for the ICC World Cup and we need to give a big push ahead of the Ireland and Scotland qualifiers,” he said.

“Coach Duleep Mendis will soon chalk out a timetable for the team and we are keen to prepare a sound strategy for the qualifiers. We will do all what it takes to get the team ready for the July event,” said Pankaj.

Recalling Oman's last visit to Ireland in 2005, when it took part in the ICC World Cup qualifier (50 overs), Pankaj said, “We have definitely taken lessons from that event and will be much better prepared this time.” Oman could manage only a ninth place finish out of the 12 teams back then.

‘May rope in specialist coaches if needed’
Pankaj said that 'we may bring in specialist batting, bowling and fielding coaches if required in consultation with our chief coach Duleep Mendis'.

“We may also seek help from Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), for arranging pre-qualifiers acclimatisation camps in UK or Ireland as well as technical assistance for our team. We have an excellent relationship with MCC and will try to use their experience for our team’s preparations,” said Pankaj.

The senior OC official said that the OC may also approach the ICC headquarters in Dubai, UAE to provide top-class trainers, be it for technical development or for improving physical fitness of players.

“The ICC has already agreed to nominate their experienced curator for our turf ground and I am sure it will help prepare good wickets in Oman,” he said.

Pankaj also sought the help of corporate houses who employ the national team players as the team begins its build-up for the qualifiers.

“It is important to get the players' release for longer periods as they need to devote more time in preparation for the ICC world qualifiers. We are hopeful that they would support the national team's mission,” he said.

Hard work bore fruit, says coach Mendis
Chief coach Duleep Mendis attributed the success to hard work of the players and the coaching staff.

“We were keen to achieve it and I think the players performed exceptionally well. They worked very hard and I think the boys played their best cricket in recent times.

“The batsmen clicked in the initial stages of the tournament and then in the last two matches when the batting flopped, the bowlers did very well. It was a good team effort and I am really looking forward to the team doing well in Ireland and Scotland,” said Mendis.

Oman's Jatinder Singh was also adjudged the best batsman and the coach praised the batsman's consistency.

Mendis said in the final league match against Kuwait, Syed Aamir Kaleem's spin spell (3-18) proved to be decisive.

Besides Jatinder, Adnan Ilyas also performed well with the bat while Ajay Lalcheta and Rajesh Kumar Ranpura shone with the ball along with Aamir Kaleem.

On the chances in the ICC world qualifiers, Mendis said, “I think we have a good chance to qualify. There are six berths available from 14 and we can make it if we prepare well for the tournament.”

“Physical fitness training will be our main focus and I think we need to still put in a lot of work in that area,” he said.

Oman skipper Sultan Ahmed said that the 'collective effort' bore fruit and besides batting and bowling the players also improved in fielding.

Team manager Jameel Zaidi said the atmosphere in the team camp was positive throughout the tournament and the desire among the players to fight till the last ball was instrumental in the team's success.

Madhu Jesrani, the OC secretary, praised the players' commitment and hoped that they will continue to raise the performance bar high.

“We have to target a top six finish in Ireland and Scotland, which is not easy but we will try our best,” he said.

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