WCL2 Preview: Oman

Oman celebrating WCL3

Despite their incredible World T20 run in 2016, Oman has been slow to emulate their short-format success in the fifty over game. Once languishing in Division Six three years ago, Oman continued a slow climb to reach Division Two last year, only to fold under the pressure.

Tinkering with their team, affected by eligibility and availability, the Sultanate side’s form has fluctuated over the last 18 months. On their day, Oman push some of the Associates’ best, though when it goes wrong, it is a train-wreck. This was highlighted by a nightmare day in Al-Amerat in February against Scotland, bowled out for 24, the fourth-lowest List A total in history. With the Scots taking just 3.2 overs to chase the total, both teams had half a day off.

For Oman to achieve the desired result this time in Namibia, they’ll have to overcome the demons of WCL2 2018, with the same three grounds hosting the tournament this year. Will the haunting memories of collapsing at Affies Park to UAE make them tentative? Or are they ready to right the wrongs?

From the failures of last year’s fifth place finish, Oman cleaned house and fought back to romp WCL3 at home. Then 40-year-old Sultan Ahmed handed the captaincy to Zeeshan Maqsood, who enjoyed instant success. Oman sewed up the tournament undefeated, with a four wicket win against fellow promoted side USA confirming their place in Namibia once more. Aqib Ilyas, set to have a huge bearing on Oman’s success this over the next two weeks, made an even 100 in the successful chase.

Captain Maqsood has praised the team in its preparation, sharing a two match series 1-1 with the UAE, before a camp in Pretoria. Chasing 253 to beat their neighbours in the first match, Oman looked comfortable at 3-114 in less than 20 overs chasing 239, only to fall for 224 in game two. Falling under the pressure of a tricky chase in a bilateral series does not bode well for matches of such significance at a WCL event. Their Asian Cup qualifier match against Hong Kong last September also highlighted this frailty once more, being bowled out for 183. Luckily for the Omanis, rain came to their rescue on that occasion.

With several fresh faces and perhaps no fear of failure or inhibition, Oman should have happier memories in Windhoek. 14 months later from WCL2 2018 there is no Sultan Ahmed, Swapnil Khadye, Naseem Khushi, Ajay Lalcheta or Vaibhav Wategaonkar. Khushi and Lalcheta, a former captain of the Omani side, are on standby waiting as reserves.

Hyderabad-born all-rounder Sandeep Goud, who has only been a feature of the Omani side from February, could be a key cog. Bringing miserly medium pace in the middle overs on slow decks will add scoreboard pressure, with his ability to churn out valuable runs on the other side of things making him a true asset to his team.
Moonamchery Michal is another new addition to the Oman batting lineup, after coming through the Oman Emerging side last year. With satisfactory performances late last year, including a fifty against an Afghanistan Emerging side, Michal was picked in both a quadrangular T20 series match against Ireland and for all three one day matches against Scotland.

Finding a mainstay wicketkeeper has been a problem for Oman, and after Twinkal Bhandari’s omission, Suraj Kumar has been flung into the eleven to take the role. A key performer of the Oman Development XI’s T20 victory against a strong Ireland side earlier in the year, Suraj passed the audition to claim his spot.

With struggles of posting competitive scores in 2018, Khawar Ali’s role with the bat, along with fellow opener Jatinder Singh, will have a huge bearing on their success. As the only Omani player to score over 150 runs at last year’s WCL2, Khawar made 15 of Oman’s miserable 24 runs in their horrific collapse against Scotland. That’s almost two thirds of the completed total for those playing at home.

It would be unfair to pinpoint any Omani individual for their lack of ability in the middle order, though there appears to be a lack of long-term focus to build match-winning innings and partnerships. With scorecards riddled with scores in the 20s to 40s, Oman could go a long way to promotion by giving themselves a fraction longer to compile totals.

It is no surprise that if Oman are to dominate this tournament, it must be with the ball where they have proven credentials. Bilal Khan and Khaleemullah are a lethal combination who compliment each other well, with Bilal finishing as joint top wicket-taker at the same tournament last year. Quite an achievement given that games were dominated by spin bowling. Khawar Ali will also be called on to bowl, with the 33-year-old’s leg spin carrying the potential to run through a side. Khawar ran through UAE with a spell of 5/48 in the victory earlier this month, with Jay Odedra’s off spin able to tie down opponents in the middle overs.

With a team that finally looks to have put the jigsaw together, and mostly positive results against strong sides in the lead up, Oman should the ability to finish in the top half and vitally in the top two thirds for promotion. Their first game against the USA could well set the tone though, and if the scars of 2018 are re-opened things could fall apart. Pundits of the emerging game have them placing anywhere between second and fifth, only emphasising the team’s lack of consistency.


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