For Oman’s intrepid night teams, sport is a round-the-clock passion. Y hits the pitch to meet some of the amateur players putting in the hard work when most of us are already off the clock – all for the love of the game.
Football knows no boundaries.
Whether you’re playing professionally on a field at the Sultan Qaboos Sport Stadium, casually in the streets, or at the beach with your best mates – football is all about making the best of your time and having good fun.
At first glance, the group of eight adults sprinting behind the ball at a garden that passes for a small park in Azaiba, is doing exactly that; having a blast as they recoup with their friends after a day of work.
The darkness and the coolness in the air that the evening brings along is like gold – especially with the mid-summer temperatures hitting the 40-degree-Celsius mark.
Just as important as the time, is being able to find a spot to play. There are several teams here waiting to sweat it out on the field after this group finishes up their match, as nights can be the only time people pass the hours playing sports – irrespective of whether of the humidex.
But that’s not dampening the spirits of the team.
In fact, their hand-eye coordination and stamina are on-point, as the 30-something-year old men run and shoot the ball with the precision of much younger players. Also comparable is the joy on their faces as they guide the ball into the far corners of the nets.
“Got you,” shouts Sameer Khan, a player who hails from Pakistan; he’s clocked the first goal of the night against his mate Richard’s team.
The players share a laugh; though, and we soon learn that the Sameer-Richard rivalry goes back three years to a Ramadan Football Tournament held in Al Amerat.
It’s 1–0 for all we know.
But for the two players, it’s far more important than just scoring a goal – it’s also about bragging rights.
A 30-minute duel ensues, and Sameer and his team can find the back of the nets three more times, with their nemeses only doing the same once.
The final score: 4–1.
As they retreat to the chairs they’ve placed in the park, we learn that no love is lost. In fact, not only do they keep the rivalry within the confines of the poorly chalk-drawn field, they resort to talking about work the next day.
Speaking to us after the game is Richard, an Indian expat. He says: “When it’s summer and you’ve got nothing else to do in the mornings but work, it’s best to come here and sweat it out.
“The rivalry is short, and we all work together. But this 30 minutes’ fun is what keeps us going,” he says.
And, just like that, an intense game ends and retires into time for some chitchat… or so you’d think.
Yet, hanging back with their own set of gear are the next team of younger players for a match of their own – this time, it’s cricket.
Quickly, the six stumps are nailed in and the creases and boundaries marked – fearing another group of players will make their way and claim the play area.
“Hit the ball out into the trees and you’re out (Out: a term in cricket that ends a batsman’s stint at the crease as a player),” exclaims Roshan, as his mates are taken aback and mutter fervently about their dislike of the law.
“Don’t set the rules if you can’t play well,” jokes Roshan’s brother, Nilesh, from the back of the group – probably ruining his chances to get picked onto his brother’s team.
It’s true as well. Nilesh is the last man to be selected by the two captains; though, by the process of elimination he ends up with his brother.
The game gets underway well past 8:00 p.m.
The players struggle to get bat on ball owing to the dark conditions in the park. Roshan’s team still manages to put up a stout 83 runs on the board in 10 overs before giving up the crease to their rivals.
The teams’ hopes for a decider, however, are stumped as two team members get called in for supper by their parents.
And by 8:45 p.m., the game is drawn to a close – there’s no winner.
Yet again, there’s no disappointment in the eyes of the players, leaving us to wonder if we were more invested in the match than those in the game themselves.
Nilesh is quick to tell us how night cricket has become part and parcel of summer life for him in Oman.
“We’ve been here in Oman for the last 12 years and we grew up embracing the heat,” says the 14-year-old.
“Another thing we embrace tightly is cricket. So, even if we can’t really see [the ball] we’re hitting – or where we’re hitting it – we love to come out to the pitch and play a good game of cricket.
“It’s become a tradition for all of the kids in our building to come together, keep all our studies aside, and play together.
Pointing at his brother, Nilesh says, “Some of us have only got a year before we head to college, and we’re trying to make the most of what we can.
“More than the game itself we just want to catch up and spend some time with each other that we can cherish before we all split up and enter another phase of life.”