The strides made by Oman Cricket (OC) over the past 2016-17 season were highlighted and celebrated at its annual awards ceremony on Sunday but the officials were quick to lay emphasis on the future challenges with the main goal clear as crystal – national team’s performance in the ICC World Cricket League Division Two early next year.
Speaking to Muscat Daily ahead of the ceremony, which felicitated the domestic league winners and achievers, Pankaj Khimji, a senior OC board member said, “We are happy that Oman Cricket is on the right path both on and off the field. Be it our national team’s promotion to ICC WCL Division Two earlier this year or the allround development of infrastructure at the Al Amerat ground, it has been a fantastic year.
“We are certainly proud to share the success, but it is also time to get our focus back on our national team’s preparations for WCL Division Two, likely to be held early next year.”
“As part of our endeavour to get our boys the best possible preparations, we are already in serious talks with the Afghanistan board to send its team to Muscat later this year. We are also in talks with another Test-playing nation, Zimbabwe, besides talking with the US and UAE boards to send their teams to Muscat ahead of the ICC WCL Division Two event.”
Khimji said, “Matches against strong teams like Afghanistan, which became a Test-playing nation in June, will be a big boost to our players.”
Oman emerged winner while Canada was runner-up at the ICC WCL Division Three in Uganda in May and both the teams will be joined by Namibia and UAE along with two other teams in Division Two. Two of the four teams – Scotland, Hong Kong, Kenya and Nepal – are expected to play in Division Two.
The top two teams in Division Two will advance to the 2018 World Cup Qualifier and Khimji expressed confidence that “our boys have the potential” to make it to the qualifier.
“We have done amazingly well so far and with the ICC rule of seven-year residency not applicable in Division Two, we are hopeful of increasing our bench strength. Domestic performances over the next few weeks will be closely monitored as the selection committee and coaches will begin to finalise the core team,” said Khimji.
The national team’s coaching staff, however, will miss the services of its bowling coach Rumesh Ratnayake, who has returned to work with Sri Lanka Cricket. Former Sri Lankan cricketer Ruwan Kalpage will continue to assist team’s chief coach Duleep Mendis as spin and fielding coach.
OC’s ambitious project of a full-fledged academy and a clubhouse had recently received a boost with the signing of an agreement with the London-based Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC).
Khimji said that the academy and the clubhouse will likely be operational by March next year and OC’s aim in the times ahead is to attract local youngsters and their parents.
“The emphasis will be on grassroots development and the MCC is known to be among the best to nurture youngsters,” he said.
Assarain hogged the limelight at the 2016-17 Oman Cricket annual awards ceremony held at the Al Falaj Hotel on Sunday night.
H E Sheikh Saad al Saadi, the Minister of Sports Affairs, presided over the ceremony that was attended by Kanak Khimji, the OC president, and other top sports officials.
Assarain achieved a rare distinction last year as it clinched a double – winning the Premier Division 50-overs league and Premier T20 league.
Vinu Mathew, the team manager, said, “We are very proud of the achievements. The boys worked hard and it is a great feeling to win both the Premier Division leagues.”
Assarain’s Zeeshan Maqsood, a key member of the national team, was adjudged the player of the year as well as the best batsman while Muscat CT’s Baadal Singh was named the best bowler in the top-flight league.