(Photo credit: Oman Cricket)
By Shahzad Raza
MUSCAT: After an outstanding performance in Nepal’s 50-over Tri-Series last week, Oman will switch to T20 mode on home soil for the 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. The 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 host 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 the Asia Cup later this year.
Hong Kong had defeated UAE in the final of the Asia Cup Qualifier 2018 and advanced to ACC’s showpiece event.
Hard to beat these days whether playing at home or away, Oman has risen to 14th in ICC ODI rankings — its highest so far, after returning unbeaten from a Tri-series in Nepal that also involved the USA earlier this month.
Oman currently occupies 17th spot in the ICC T20 rankings and only the UAE from the Western Region Tournament is ranked higher at number 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 its 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 which is a pretty dangerous team on its 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: 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.
Tournament schedule (all matches on OC Turf 1 & 2)
Qatar vs Maldives, UAE vs Iran – 9.30 am
Oman vs Bahrain, Saudi Arabia vs Kuwait – 1.30 pm
Iran vs Saudi Arabia, Oman vs Qatar – 9.30 am
Kuwait vs UAE, Maldives vs Bahrain – 1.30 pm
Oman vs Maldives, Saudi Arabia vs UAE – 9.30 am
Qatar vs Bahrain, Kuwait vs Iran – 1.30 pm
Semifinal 1: Group A1 vs Group B2 (9.30 am at OC Turf 1)
Semifinal 2: Group A2 vs Group B1 (9.30 am at OC Turf 2)
Final: Winner SF1 vs Winner SF2 (9.30 am at OC Turf 1)