Shahzad Raza –
MUSCAT, FEB 19 –
After outstanding performance in Nepal’s 50-over Tri-Series last week, Oman will switch to T20 mode on home soil for eight-nation ACC Men’s Western Region Tournament, scheduled to start on Sunday, February 23 on Al Amerat’s picturesque twin cricket grounds.
Captain Zeeshan Maqsood will lead the side while in-form Aqib Ilyas will be his deputy provided he overcomes an injury and is declared fit to play.
The teams have been divided in two groups; Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Maldives battling it out in Group A and UAE, Kuwait, Iran and Saudi Arabia taking each other on in Group B. Top two from each group will contest the semifinals on February 26 with the winners reaching the final, scheduled to be held the next day.
The five-team ACC Eastern Region Tournament will see Nepal, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and hosts Thailand in action in March and the top two sides will join the top two from the Western Region Tournament in the Asia Cup Qualifier, scheduled to be held in Malaysia in August this year. The winner of that competition will join India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan in Asia Cup later this year.
Hong Kong had defeated UAE in the final of Asia Cup Qualifier 2018 and advanced to ACC’s showpiece event.
Hard to beat these days whether playing at home or away, Oman have risen to 14th in ICC ODI rankings, their highest so far, after returning unbeaten from a tri-series in Nepal that also involved USA earlier this month.
Oman currently occupy 17th spot in ICC T20 Rankings and only UAE from the Western Region Tournament is ranked higher at 15. Playing at home puts Oman in a pole position to cross the line faster than others.
“There’s no denying the fact that we enjoy playing at home and it does give us a clear advantage over others. Any home side would know the conditions better than others and there is always the massive support of a ‘home’ crowd that can keep the adrenaline flowing,” says Oman captain Maqsood.
However, he feels there are no hot favourites in a T20 game and any team that plays well on their day can win.
“Unlike ODIs, T20 cricket is so fast that the game can change its course in a couple of overs so you can’t take any side lightly, particularly UAE who are a petty dangerous team on their day. One little gem with the bat or one outstanding spell is all it takes to turn a T20 game over its head and we know sides like Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi are capable of springing a surprise or two anytime,” added Maqsood, who, along with vice-captain Aqib Ilyas, is in terrific form as an all-rounder.
Oman’s floodlit grassy grounds with electronic scoreboards in Amerat are surrounded by scenic mountainous locales and mega shopping malls that make evening outings interesting and eventful.
Oman squad: Zeeshan Maqsood (captain), Aqib Ilyas (vice-captain), Jatinder Singh, Khawar Ali, Sanuth Ebrahim, Suraj Kumar, Muhammed Naseem, Sandeep Goud, Muhammed Nadeem, Sufyan Mahmood, Amir Kaleem, Kaleemullah, Bilal Khan.
Officials: Chef de Mission – Pankaj Khimji, Manager – Madhu Jesrani, Coach – Duleep Mendis, Assistant Coach – Mazhar Saleem Khan, Trainer: Evert Laubscher, Video Analyst – Zeeshan Ahmed Siddiqui, Physio – Sean Nowak
Shahzad Raza –