As the penultimate ball of the final over of Oman’s match against Ireland bounced through the legs of Niall O’Brien and went to the boundary for four byes, it was the continuation of a remarkable journey for the Oman team.
They played their first-ever match in front of TV cameras in July last year at the World T20 qualifiers, a tournament where most informed judges expected them to make up the numbers. In fact they did not have T20 international status going into that event.
At that event, it was a real surprise when Oman made it out of the group stage and into the playoffs. The top six teams made it to the ICC World T20 and to get there the Omanis had to beat the much more fancied Namibians.
They won the toss, elected to field and the slingy medium pace of Munis Ansari helped restrict the Namibians to 148-9. Ansari took 3 for 23 and played a huge part in restricting their opponents to a manageable target.
Ansari is from India, and he told ESPNCricinfo that he used to bowl at 140kph and thinks if he had been given some support as a youngster, he could have made it as a professional cricketer in his home country. As it is he had to wait until he was almost 30 and bowling a lot slower to make an impact at the highest levels of international cricket.
Oman chased that target against Namibia thanks to unbeaten 51 from Zeeshan Siddiqui, but with him at the end it was Amir Ali who was Man of the Match against Ireland on Wednesday. Rotund and bespectacled, Ali looks very much like an accountant and not at all like an international athlete. Despite his appearance, his 17 ball 32 was what set up the win against the Irish.
Bowling is very much the strength of this Oman side, with the unorthodox seam of Ansari combining with the spin of Ajay Lalcheta and Aamir Kaleem doing a decent job of restricting sides. While Kaleem’s spin may be orthodox, his approach to running out batsmen who back out too far is anything but. In the qualifying round of the Asia Cup that took place last month, he ran out Hong Kong’s Mark Chapman when the batsman left his crease before the ball was bowled.
There is little that causes more upset than a Mankading, but Oman are unrepentant about their approach. Captain Sultan Ahmed asked a very reasonable question in a pre-tournament news conference. “If they don’t want us to Mankad, why is it in the rulebook then?”
It seems that the Oman Cricket Board agreed with the team that they will give their opponents a warning but it was telling to see just how far back in their crease the Ireland batsmen were in the opening overs of their match against Oman.
While bowling is a strength, that is not to say that Oman are without batsmen, the most impressive amongst them is Zeeshan Maqsood who scored 199 against Bhutan in a 50 over match on his debut in 2012. He was run out going for his 200th run. He was the highest scorer in the chase versus Ireland and looked set to score a lot more than the 38 that he made when he inside edged a ball from Kevin O’Brien on to his stumps.
This victory against the Irish was a real demonstration of the self-belief that Oman have, an attitude that has made them greater than the sum of their parts.
Ireland have long been the doyens of associate cricket but Oman certainly didn’t look out of place against them; in fact a new comer to the game watching the last over would have been surprised to hear that the relative standing of the two teams was not reversed.
Oman are the latest side to rise up through the ranks of the various cricket leagues that exist outside the cosy club that is full membership of the ICC, and it is important to remember that many employees of cricket's governing body dedicate their whole working lives to spreading the game. But they are hamstrung by the attitude of the ICC board and full members who continue to treat countries from outside the top table with absolute disdain.
Sport is at its best when we see a team rising above their existing position and beating a side that they shouldn’t. This tournament format has done its best to engineer out the possibility of an upset by tacking on a qualifying event and calling it the first round. Even then the associate nations managed to throw up an unlikely result.
Here was a team of part-time cricketers beating a side of full time professionals with more experience and better facilities. It should be the stuff of dreams for those that market the sport but it happened at the same time as Australia played South Africa on another continent in front of an empty stadium.
Some would find a way to criticise this Oman side for having a side full of expatriates, but they are the perfect representation of both the country and cricketing culture of Oman. About 50 per cent of those that live in Oman were born elsewhere and almost all of those that play cricket are not from Oman by birth. We should see the rise of this team of passionate and able cricketers that are performing brilliantly on the world stage as a cause for celebration.
And hopefully they will Mankad someone along the way, that is always great fun.