Oman arrived at the 2019 T20 World Cup Qualifier as arguable favourites to win the tournament.
In our preview, Emerging Cricket cited a Janus-faced quality in Oman’s specific on-field tendencies, setting aside the general competitiveness and unpredictability of Associate cricket. We asked ahead of the Qualifier: ‘Which Oman can we expect? And are Oman genuine tournament favourites or mere pretenders, capable of winning warm-up events but faltering when it matters?’
Depending on when in the tournament you checked, Oman might have looked like favourites, pretenders, or even also-rans. Ultimately, they snatched the last available place at the T20 World cup, beating Hong Kong by the smallest of margins for the biggest of prizes. Perhaps they did not falter when it really mattered, or perhaps they simply faltered less against a side also prone to faltering in such circumstances.
Oman navigated the group stages of the qualifier easily, beating the UAE and Hong Kong by seven wickets respectively, before losing by 35 runs to Ireland chasing 183. Comfortable, expected wins against Canada and Nigeria followed.
Each of the four wins followed a well-worn template: bowl first, expect early wickets from Bilal Khan, and Kaleemullah, strangle the opposition middle order with relentlessly accurate spin bowling, and chase down a relatively small total courtesy one or more of Jatinder Singh, Aqib Ilyas, Zeeshan Maqsood and a group of experienced bowling allrounders.
A win in their final game would have secured a first place in the group and with it a place in the semi-finals of the Qualifier, and automatic qualification for the T20 World Cup.
Cue a costly hiccup. Chasing 141 runs against an unheralded Jersey side, Oman were 82-3 at the start of the 13th over, with Jatinder Singh (29) and captain Zeeshan Maqsood (56) well set.
Half an hour later, the Omanis had lost by 14 runs, left-arm spinner Eliot Miles (3-22) the hero, accounting for Singh, Maqsood, and the experienced Suraj Kumar. For their troubles, Oman conceded first place and the automatic World Cup berth to Ireland, and earned a semi-final play-off date with Namibia, the most explosive side in the tournament.
The southern African side won that encounter by 54 runs, courtesy a barrage of huge sixes from JJ Smit (59 off 25 balls), and an Omani middle-order collapse in the chase. Suddenly Oman were facing a young, fearless, and rejuvenated Hong Kong side in a do-or-die clash for the final place at the World Cup.
Call it a falter within a slide, the young Dragons had Oman in the doldrums at 42/6 off 9 overs. It was only a superlative innings under pressure from opener, Jatinder Singh (67 not out off 50 balls) and a brutal onslaught of hitting from number 10 Naseem Khushi (26 not out of 9 balls), which took Oman to a respectable total.
Sensing a shift in the momentum, and a dent in Hong Kong’s morale, Bilal Khan (4-23) came out firing on all cylinders to leave Hong Kong in tatters at 18-5. Hong Kong’s lower order took them very close, but Oman sealed their place as the only Asian Associate team in the T20 World Cup in their final opportunity.
That Oman got so far in the Qualifier was down to two players, both of whom dominated the tournament charts and contributed at the most crucial moments in the campaign. Jatinder Singh scored 267 runs at an average of 38.14, his tally third to that of Paul Stirling and Gerhard Erasmus. Bilal Khan topped the wicket-taking charts with 18 wickets at an average of 12.5 and an economy rate of 6.65.
Whilst, individual brilliance was enough to see Oman qualify, but it will not be enough at the World Cup itself, where Duleep Mendis will be hoping for consistency and team performances in their three crucial first round encounters.
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