Kolkata: It’s time for double celebrations in Oman, the sleepy neighbourhood country of United Arab Emirates famous for it’s breathtaking scenic beauty. In less than two months, the gulf nation will be come the first country to host the T20 World Cup as well as to play in it after having qualified for the showpiece.
The co-hosts will set the ball rolling against Papua New Guinea at the Oman Cricket ground on October 17, while the action will shift to the time-tested venues of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah in the UAE in the Super 12 stage from October 23. Pankaj Khimji, the Chairman of OCA and one of the biggest industrial scions of the country, is excited about the ‘‘watershed moment’’ for his country - though he feels that the challenge now is to deliver a top class event.
‘‘Yes, it’s a race against time,’’ admitted Khimji, keeping an eye on how their World T20-bound national team is faring against the travelling Mumbai Ranji Trophy team in Muscat in one of the preparation matches.
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Speaking to Gulf News during an exclusive interview over phone, Khimji said: ‘‘The city infra-structure is ready but at the venue, all I had was like a village green with around 50 teakwood benches. There were no public seating and hence, we are making arrangements for a crowd of 3000-4000 people, upgrade the clubhouse, build the Press Box etc as per the specifications of International Cricket Council (ICC). We need funds for that and we are grateful with the way the BCCI and ICC have responded to our requirements.’’
The week-long Phase I of the tournament will see two matches being played daily, and the broadcasters’ specifications also call for the OCA to increase the capacity of the floodlights to 2500 lux, while there are other deliverables like construction of corporate hospitality boxes. ‘‘It’s been a learning process and also a race against time. at the end of the day, we would like to deliver a quality product,’’ said the OCA top boss, who took over early this year after his father, Kanakdas Khimji, passed away in February.
Reflecting on the developments over the past three months when it gradually emerged that Oman would be the co-hosts of the tournament along with UAE, Khimji said: ‘‘It’s certainly a watershed moment for us. For any country hosting an event like the World Cup, be it a full member or an associate country, it’s an epitome of success. We will also be the first associate country to host and play in a World Cup and are grateful to BCCI and ICC for allowing us to do this.
''Call it the turn of circumstances or stars, we are extremely delighted. Now, it’s all about delivering.’’
While it was hardly a secret from mid-June that Oman, with it’s sizeable population of expats from the Indian sub-continent and a healthy cricket culture would be the preferred choice to play co-hosts, the official announcement came on July 16 when the ICC announced the dates and groupings with photographs of the BCCI top honchos Sourav Ganguly, Jay Shah, ICC’s Geoff Allardyce and Khimji posing with the winners’ trophy.
What was the reaction of Ganguly and Shah on their arrival at the venue? Khimji said on a candid note: ‘‘It was providence which played it’s part during their visit. Even two days prior to their visit, the temperature at the ground was 46 degrees centigrade. Then it rained and when they visited the ground, the temperature hovered around at 30 degrees plus and they could see a waterfall cascading off the mountains in the distance. Now, it’s hard to remember when it last rained in this part of the world in July.
‘‘Ganguly said it reminded him of the county grounds in England during his playing days. The day they visited, Oman went on a lockdown from 5 pm and all of us - during myself - checked into the hotel to carry on with our discussions. They have showed the faith in us and we hope to get at least nine out of 10 things right,’’ he said.
As Khimji alternates between his role of the head of the organising committee as well as someone driving the country’s fortunes in cricket, he is also quite buoyant about Oman’s chances of making an impression in the marquee event. ‘‘In Round 1, we are grouped with Bangladesh, PNG and Scotland. We have played PNG and Scotland quite often an have a good chance against them - two wins should take us through to the next stage. Then if we qualify to play against the big boys in the UAE, we have to be at our best,’’ he said.
Not many cricket followers are aware that Oman have quietly started their preparation with a series of T20 matches against Mumbai who are hosting a pre-season camp in Muscat. It will be followed by two Triangulars in September for World Cup League 2 - the qualifiers for the 2023 ICC World Cup - where Oman is grouped along with USA, Nepal, PNG & Scotland. ‘‘We are fortunate to get eight 50-over games there, while Sri Lanka are scheduled to come for a 10-day camp after that and we will play some matches against them.
‘’To sum it up, we have gone about it a in a very structured manner and have got the results. We are very fortunate to have Duleep Mendis as our coach for nearly 10 years now. He is a man of incredible credentials - from being a Sri Lankan captain, coach of their ‘96 World Cup winning team and has also ran the administration of Sri Lankan Cricket. We have given him a free hand to chart the roadmap of our cricket and don’t meddle into his affairs,’’ he said.
The Oman national team also has an experienced support staff with Aviskhar Salvi, former Mumbai speedster as their fast bowling coach, a spin bowling coach from Bangaluru and two South African trainers.
The role of Khimji family as the benefactors of Oman cricket is all too well known in the cricketing fraternity - and it’s now a matter of pride for the family that Oman has such a conspicuous role to play in World T20. ‘‘It had been a passion for us all the while - and everytime we got results, our passion increased,’’ he signed off.