Built from the ground up: The family dream behind Oman's cricketing rise
Cricket in Oman has come a long way from the days of dirt grounds played on by navy crew, with the lush grass of the Oman Cricket Academy Ground to see plenty of T20 World Cup action this month.
Suffice to say, cricket in the country has seen transformative change. And much of that change stems from the dreams of Kanaksi Khimji.
The founding Chairman of the Oman Cricket Board in 1979, Khimji 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, while maintaining other professional portfolios, Khimji was so revered that the honorary title of Sheikh was bestowed upon him by the late Sultan Qaboos bin Said. In 2011, he was presented the ICC Lifetime Service Award.
Kanaksi sadly passed away in February, but not before Oman Cricket Ground Academy was approved as a Test venue.
Kanaksi's son Pankaj, a long term member of the Oman Cricket Board, 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 United Arab Emirates. And the jewel in the nation's cricket crown will take glowing centre stage, with the Academy facility in Al Amerat hosting Group B matches in the First Round.
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.
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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 5 of the ICC World Cricket League as recently as 2016. Miraculously, that year they qualified to play in the Men's T20 World Cup in India, where they won their first match on tournament debut against Ireland.
They have continued to take strides since, attaining ODI status is 2019.
Oman return 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 took on Namibia in the semi-final playoff of the Qualifier but fell short. With only the top six finishers at the Qualifier going through to the T20 World Cup, Oman found themselves in a sudden-death play-off 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 Nawaz
17 Oct - v Papua New Guinea
19 Oct - v Bangladesh
21 Oct - v Scotland
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).
Look out for
Oman’s highest run-scorer at the 2019 Qualifier, Singh struck 267 runs at a strike rate of 134.17, averaging 38.28, and top-scoring in three of his team’s innings in the successful campaign. Singh compiled a vital 67 (50) in the victory over Hong Kong to qualify, and only Namibia’s Gerhard Erasmus and Ireland’s Paul Stirling were more prolific at the tournament.
Heading into the tournament in ominous white ball form via Cricket World Cup League 2, Singh has the potential to peel off big scores and do it in a hurry. His knock of 107 off 62 balls against Nepal in their recent ODI encounter underlined his credentials, with a potential seventh six in the innings only denied by an outstanding catch on the rope by Nepal’s Rohit Paudel.
Likely to pair with the more circumspect Khawar Ali at the top of the order, Singh has an eye other players dream of, and will have licence from captain Zeeshan Maqsood to go all-out in attack.
Needing to make early inroads with the ball, the performances of left-arm quick Bilal Khan will go a long way towards a Super 12 berth for his country.
Taking the most wickets at the 2019 Qualifier (18) and only going wicketless twice in his nine matches, Bilal has a knack of claiming a wicket in his first over, with a run-up and action that perhaps belies the pace he can generate. At the tournament, Bilal joined an 11-strong list of men’s players to take four-wicket hauls in consecutive matches, with efforts of 4/19 and 4/23 against Namibia and Hong Kong respectively, also on consecutive days.
Famous in the Associate world for his ability to bowl yorkers almost at will, Bilal also has a knack of swinging the white ball into the right-hander, or angle smartly away. Khan has grown a reputation for being one of the hardest workers off the field, with a regimented fitness regime delivering results between the 22 yards.
Scotland - 21 October
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.