MUSCAT, JAN 7 – It is an established fact that sporting glory not only has the capacity to unite people but lift the national mood too. As the Sultanate enters 2018 with increased assurance after the stupendous success in the Gulf Cup football which it so remarkably won in Kuwait, Oman Cricket (OC) welcomes the New Year with supreme confidence after a highly memorable and successful 2017.
Aiming to join the big league of cricket, Oman has made remarkable progress in recent years with its national team leaving a big impression on the International Cricket Council (ICC) as one of the most noticeable outfits outside the Test arena. Having graduated to Associate level after winning the World Cricket League (WCL) Division 3 in Uganda, the crowning glory of 2017, Oman is now looking forward to similar success in 2018 as it embarks on a mission to achieve its goal of 2018 — qualifying to play in the WCL Division One after winning the WCL Division Two, to be held in Namibia from February 6 to 15. Top two teams will not only be promoted to WCL One but will get the opportunity to play in the World Cup qualifiers as well.
“The foundation for the successes of 2017 was actually laid in 2016 when we started the journey towards achieving our goals. Led by captain Sultan Ahmed, Oman National Team was outstanding in its performances throughout its journey from WCL Division Four to WCL Division Two. I am sure we will do pretty well in Division Two as well and once we reach Division One it will be a different ballgame altogether,” said Duleep Mendis, Head Coach of Oman National Team and Chief Development Officer, Oman Cricket.
Top class infrastructure
While Oman continued to make headlines in 2017 due to the outstanding performances of its national team, Oman Cricket kept up the solid work it was doing by putting in place the international standard infrastructure to support the game’s development in the country. 2017 was a major milestone year for cricket in Oman as OC completed the spade work for the next twenty years of cricket at least.
The year provided the good news players had been waiting to hear; setting up of Oman Cricket Academy with its own state-of-the-art building offering indoor nets at seven strips including two fast, two spin and three normal batting surfaces.
The building is likely to be ready in the first quarter of 2018. Oman Cricket also set up a full-fledged floodlit net practice facility in November 2017 with six astro turf and six turf pitches to play on.
The same year OC had two electronic scoreboards installed at the grassy grounds in Al Amerat, highlighting its intent to upgrade the whole cricket infrastructure in the country to the international standard.
A landmark ‘Letter of Friendship’ was signed with the Marylebone Cricket Club of UK in the presence of Prince Andrew, Duke of York, and John Stephenson, Secretary of Cricket MCC, in September 2017 to strengthen the infrastructure, promote the game of cricket and nurture the youngsters at each other’s facilities at a high-profile special ceremony at the Al Amerat cricket ground.
As part of its overall development plans, Oman Cricket also introduced match referees in the top two divisions of its annual league tournament.
As many as eleven referees were trained by David Levins, special referees’ coach from ICC, on August 25 and 26.
Oman Cricket also organised a Level 0 course for umpires in Salalah in May 2017, which was conducted by A R Srinivasan, Level 2 Educator for umpires in Oman.
Outstanding show by National Team
Reminiscing about the major challenge of 2017, which was to win the WCL Division Three, Mendis, said Oman Cricket was extremely pleased with the way its National Team had performed in recent times.
“It has been a steady climb up the ladder. I don’t think any other team would have gone up the way our team has. While it has happened largely due to the hard work of our team led by Sultan, I must highlight the support from our Board of Directors, specially Madhu Jesrani and Pankaj Khimji, who provided the complete backing, their undivided attention and resourceful consideration to make things easier. No team can be successful without the backing of its Board and our team was lucky to have it,” added the former Sri Lankan captain.
Oman started the year 2017 with a three-match series against UAE, which the hosts won 2-1, as part of preparation for WCL Three campaign in Uganda. After that series, Oman hired expert coaches; Ramesh Ratnayake as fast bowling coach and Ruwan Kalpage as spin and fielding coach. They were backed up by a specialised video analyst from India, Nandisha, who provided the much needed technical support to the team. On its way to Uganda, Oman toured Kenya as part of its preparation campaign and won all the matches there in May 2017. The hard work paid off as Oman ended up winning the WCL Three in Uganda as well as the promotion to WCL Two.
Oman hosted USA for three matches in December in its first home series against a major international side, winning the rubber 3-0. Later that month the national side travelled to UAE for a three-match series against Hong Kong, beating its fancied and higher ranked opponent 2-1.
Oman Women’s team then toured Malaysia for a three-match bilateral series. While it lost the series 2-1, Oman girls gave a good account of their talent and progress by competing well against a superior opponent playing on its own turf.
While Oman Under-19 could not impress during its participation in the ACC Western Region Championship, much is expected of Oman Under-16 team currently in UAE to take part in ACC Under-16 Western Region tournament, being held from January 7 to 13 2018.
An eye on the future
Keeping in mind the importance of WCL Division Two, Oman Cricket is leaving no stone unturned in getting the national team in good shape for the all-important assignment.
OC has once again hired the services of expert coaches to work on the team’s weak areas and polish its strengths. Ruwan Kalpage is working with the team to hone its spin and fielding skills while Anusha Samaranayake is focusing on optimising the fast bowlers’ performance.
“We are on the right path. Once we reach the WCL Division One, there will be more cricket. Oman Cricket will have to sit down and plan on how to move forward. We are also concentrating on women’s cricket and a team from Qatar will be here in January 2018 to play against Oman women’s team,” stated Mendis.
“In the coming weeks, Oman Cricket is going to move into Oman Cricket Academy building, which will be among the finest in the region. We are on track and if things go as planned we will have a very good 2018 too,” he added.