By Shahzad Raza –
MUSCAT: Cricket in Oman is progressing at a rapid pace and every new season adds to the excitement as Oman Cricket (OC) makes more facilities available to players and teams. As a result, competition at the top is getting increasingly intense and exciting.
With the cricket season already underway, focus will now shift to the Oman Premier League, which promises to be even more competitive than the previous edition. Though this year’s league has only five teams in the fray, new additions and renewed ambitions mean all five teams will be targeting the coveted trophy. New talent, newly laid pitches and focus on fitness and strategy are sure to raise the bar.
Old horse Raha has opted out of this season while Sinha has been relegated to A Division, leaving defending champions Assarain, Muscat CT, Passage to India, Enhance and Al Turki to fight it out in a triple-round league format.
Seasoned Muscat CT is probably the oldest team in Oman along with Raha and has won the premier championship on numerous occasions. However, the last few seasons have not been very rewarding for Muscat.
Boasting one of the strongest bowling attacks in the country, Muscat feels its batsmen need to perform more consistently.
“This season is going to be very competitive and we realise that. We have added two new players to our line-up and both are very good batsmen who can bowl as well. Ayaan Khan, a middle order batsman who bowls left-arm spin, has joined us already while a top order batsman who bowls medium pace will be with us soon,” said Wilson Xavier Burboz, Muscat CT manager.
With a few reinforcements, Muscat aims to play hard but fair and won’t settle for anything less than the championship.
“Our batting is now a good mix of seniors and young new players, though our bowling is still comparatively stronger. If we are consistent in our performances and play to our true potential we are pretty confident of doing better this season,” added Wilson, who has played for Muscat CT for many seasons.
Muscat captain Vaibhav Wategaonkar is determined to have a more fruitful campaign this season.
“As a team we want to be more consistent than the previous season when we lost a few pretty close games, which cost us the championship. This year our focus is going to be on playing hard and competitive cricket consistently,” he added.
Led by the mercurial Zeeshan Maqsood, defending champions Assarain, which won both Premier Division titles (50 overs and T20) last season, knows it will be much tougher repeating the feat but it remains focused, motivated and confident of another great show.
“We became the first team in the history of Premier League to have won both the titles last season so the confidence is high. We believe we have a pretty strong and balanced team and have not felt the need to make new additions this season,” said team manager Vinu Mathews.
The country’s premier tournament looks set to see a more aggressive Assarain.
“We know this year’s competition is going to be much tougher so we are going to go for the kill from the very outset,” he added.
Passage to India (PTI) is surely the team to watch out for this season as they not only have Raha veterans Sultan Ahmed and Zeeshan Ahmed Siddiqui playing for them but their captain Amir Kaleem is also back in the team after being out for nine months due to injury. This makes Passage much richer in experience and class. PTI, managed and mentored by KK Mohandas, will also have fresh blood flowing through its ranks as two new players from Pakistan have joined the team.
“We have a much balanced team this season. Mohammed Salman Ali from Faisalabad is an exciting opening batsman who bowls off spin too. He has played First Class cricket and will be a very good addition to our team,” stated Amir Kaleem, who will be leading the team.
The second new addition to PTI squad is Ihsanullah Khan, the young all-rounder from Peshawar, who bats left-handed and bowls left-arm spin.
When asked which was the team to beat this season, Amir said all the teams were strong and capable of winning the championship.
“We are not going to take any team lightly. PTI is ready to play positive cricket. This won’t be an easy season for any team,” he added.
Known for its team work and discipline, Enhance has strengthened its squad and is once again going to be a surprise package. Boasting a number of players that have played for Oman, Enhance will be an exciting mix of youth and experience.
Four new additions to the squad include Oman under-19 captain Wasim Ali, left-arm paceman Mazhar Alam, batsman Khurram Khan and all-rounder Aqil Khan who bowls quality left-arm spin.
“My team is beaming with confidence. We always had the ability and talent to do well and this season we have focused on fitness. Everyone has been working hard on their fitness for the last two months and it’s showing in their performances in the practice matches,” claimed Guru Prasanna, Enhance team manager.
“We have made some changes in our team, strengthening our middle order by bringing in Khurram Khan and promoting young Wasim Ali from A Division to our Premier League team along with Omani talent Sufiyan Mahmood. Our batting and bowling will now have more depth,” he added.
Guru believes his team has every reason to believe that it is a serious title contender this season. They have worked hard, clearly, to nurture this belief.
Al Turki remains a dark horse, capable of causing an upset on its day. However, the team is likely to be the same as last season. Led by wicketkeeper batsman Twinkle Bhandari, the side is mentored by team owner Chaitanya Gulabsi himself. The team fortunes will largely depend on the form and fitness of its leading all-rounder Ajay Lalcheta, an established match-winner on his day.