Momentum is a funny thing. Three days ago, Canada were flying high, at the top of Group B and sitting pretty to secure direct qualification to the T20 World Cup. Now, they face a must-win clash with the embattled hosts UAE after slipping up against Hong Kong and then positively falling apart against Oman. Opting to bat first, Canada made a bright start with Srimantha Wijeyeratne (in his first match of the tournament) taking advantage of the power play as he raced out to 45 (25). Especially severe through the off side, Wijeyeratne hit speedster Bilal Khan out of the attack as he looted 16 runs off his only over, the highlight being a perfectly-timed cover drive off a juicy length delivery.
Skipper Navneet Dhaliwal was less successful. Perhaps trying to hit the ball a bit too hard, he struggled to replicate the timing he displayed in his classy 69 against Ireland. A laboured 9 (13) came to its end in the 7th over as he misjudged Khawar Ali’s wrong’un and was bowled attempting an ugly slog across the line. This brought the in-form Nitish Kumar to the crease, and he immediately looked busy, timing the ball into gaps and pushing hard for 2s.
Unfortunately, Wijeyeratne looked exhausted as, drenched in sweat, he could only trundle singles despite the huge outfield. His fitness may be a concern for Canada, despite the opening blitz, as when the fielding restrictions were lifted and his boundaries cut off, he looked stranded. A superb catch off Omani skipper Zeeshan Maqsood sent him back to the dugout for a rest, as he made some room and slapped it out to the extra-cover region where Aamir Kaleem flung himself to his left and clung onto an absolute screamer. With 56 (36), Wijeyeratne had put Canada in a good position, but his teammates failed to capitalise.
New man Nicholas Kirton was an able partner for Kumar’s busy game, as the fittest pair in the team briefly combined with a series of well-run 2s, but Kirton soon became Khawar Ali’s second wicket. Victim of a dubious LBW call, Kirton was given out against attempting a reverse sweep to a delivery that looked on replay to have pitched outside leg. The misfiring Ravi Singh was next man in, and with plenty of time to get his eye in, Canadian fans would have been hoping he could recreate some of the fireworks which saw him enter the tournament with a T20 strike rate hovering around 190.
The Omani spinners were too good though – taking pace off the ball meant Singh was unable to swing through as powerfully as he wanted, instead mistiming several ugly hacks and generally following Dhaliwal’s error of going too hard at the ball. Nitish Kumar’s excellent touch kept things humming along at the other end, but a brainfade against Aamir Kaleem saw him slog towards the longest boundary on the field at long-on, where Khurram Nawaz ran around for well-judged catch on the rope. Canada’s innings stalled soon after – despite Abraash Khan manipulating the gaps efficiently, observers were puzzled to see big-hitting wicketkeeper Tariq Ali not sent in to increase the run rate with only 5 overs to go.
The last two overs were especially disastrous for Canada, with Khan and Singh both gone slogging to leg against Maqsood in the 19th before a shambolic 20th over saw three runouts as the Canadians bungled their tactics badly in running on byes and misjudging whom to put on strike (in the end Tariq only faced 2 deliveries in the match). An eventual total of 144/9 looked below par on a flat batting wicket, and the only lingering question for Oman was whether they could chase, after a limp effort against Ireland saw them fall well short.
Oman answered that question emphatically, chasing the total inside 15 overs as they took full toll of a wayward bowling effort. A good first over from Jeremy Gordon briefly gave the Canadians hope, as he bent his back to extract genuine pace and an awkward length – Khawar Ali was slow onto a sharp bouncer as he edged to slip, and Jatinder Singh was on the back foot as Gordon beat the bat. However, that was the only highlight of the night for the North Americans.
Eranga’s next over went for 12 as Jatinder biffed him across the line to the rope at long-on, before pushing forward into a smart cover drive to end the over. Gordon’s second over was also a disaster (spanked for 18), with new man Aqib Ilyas entering the fray as the extra pace this time served only to send the ball pinging off the bat. First he timed an exquisite pickup shot which sailed over backward-square for the first 6 of the match, then he flicked a disdainful 4 through the same region, and he concluded the over by dispatching another rank legside delivery to the rope at fine leg. Ilyas was away, and he didn’t let up.
A curious feature of Canada’s bowling was their lack of spin. With Saad bin Zafar sidelined due to a chest strain, the offspinning duo of Nikhil Dutta and Nitish Kumar’s part-timers were always going have to shoulder a lot of the burden, but the variety offered by Zafar’s left-arm approach was lacking. Quizzed after the match by Peter Della Penna as to why legspinner Junaid Siddique wasn’t selected to retain spin options, skipper Navneet Dhaliwal responded that the game plan was for the opening pace barrage to remove Oman’s top order and expose the left-handers in the middle order to Dutta and Kumar. It was a slightly odd plan to begin with, and on a night when the quicker men collectively lost their radar, it ended up being disastrous. Heyliger’s introduction in the 5th over continued in the same vein as he dropped too short and let Jatinder muscle a brace of pull shots to the rope, and Gordon’s promising first over was already a distant memory.
Dutta’s introduction in the 6th did nothing to stem the flow, as Ilyas filled his boots through the offside with a series of drives through and over extra cover, taking advantage of the flight. He capped the over with a powerful sweep past short fine leg from a flatter one as the usually tidy Dutta appeared shellshocked. With the required rate already below 6 after Oman’s assault in the powerplay, it would have been easy for them to switch into autopilot. But they kept their foot on the pedal, with Kumar also taking some stick as Jatinder slogged him through leg, then Ilyas brought up 50 off just 25 deliveries. Jatinder joined him in raising the bat soon after with a cut through backward point for yet another boundary off Dutta.
Heyliger returned in the 13th over and finally took a wicket, as Ilyas shuffled across his stumps and was trapped LBW trying to force it through leg. Celebrations were muted though, and when Dutta was denied an LBW off Maqsood next over (despite it appearing very adjacent on the replay), the Canadians barely reacted. They’d known they were beaten since the powerplay, and a listless body language throughout the Oman innings had shown it. Captain Maqsood completed formalities the next over as he slapped an uppercut off a half-tracker from Gordon straight to the fence. It was a shot and a delivery that typified the chase.
For Oman, the big win sees them take pole position in the race for first place and automatic qualification – only a slip-up against Jersey could see Ireland overtake them on NRR, and with the cobwebs well and truly swept away, the Omanis will fancy their chances against a misfiring Jersey outfit. Canada, meanwhile, have a lot to think about as their tinkering with batting combinations continued – none of the middle order combinations have stuck so far, with Kirton, Khan, Cheema all rotating in and out of the side and Ravi Singh struggling for form, whilst Dhaliwal has had 3 opening partners in 5 matches. One would expect Wijeyeratne to retain his place in the crunch match against UAE, but as for who comes in below Kumar at 3, there is little stability. This unsettled middle order has almost certainly contributed to Canada squandering multiple good starts. On the bowling side of the ledger, they will be hoping Zafar is fit enough to return because he looks to be a key counterpoint to Dutta in choking off momentum in the middle overs.