ICC Media Release
One of the teams that will regret the move of the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier from Dubai to South Africa more than most is Oman. Just a short hop away, the United Arab Emirates was going to provide its neighbour with almost-home advantage, something it has never enjoyed at a global ICC cricket event before.
Four years ago in Ireland, the Oman players were like fish out of water in the green, temperate conditions of Erin's Isle. On one rare sunny day during the 2005 tournament as Dubliners were contemplating heading to the beach and slapping on the factor 30 sun-cream, the Omanis, who were practising at a ground in one of the city's leafy suburbs, sent an Irish Cricket Union official off to a nearby department store on a hunt for thermal underwear as the 22-degree day was proving too chilly for even their woolliest of long-sleeve sweaters.
This year, the weather on South Africa's highveld should prove to their liking and so conditions will seem a little more like Muscat than Malahide. As one of the unknown quantities in the competition – at least as far as the very top sides are concerned – the element of surprise could be Oman's most useful weapon.
One of the two Affiliate teams to appear in this year's event (along with Afghanistan) Oman will be led by the talented Hemal Mehta with wicketkeeper-batsman Sultan Ahmed as his able deputy.
Rafeeq Mohammed and Siyad Al Balushi have come into the 15-man squad while experienced spinners Syed Tariq Hussain and Zeeshan Ahmed Siddiqui also make comebacks for the Sultanate.
The side has progressed well and at the ICC World Cricket League Division 2 event in Namibia it beat all the teams in its group including Argentina, Uganda, Namibia, Denmark and local rival UAE in the preliminary rounds but then lost to the UAE in the final. Hemel is aware, though, that this event is going to be the toughest his side has faced since those shivering days of 2005.
'This tournament is going to be really challenging for Oman – in Windhoek at the Division 2 tournament we did well against good opponents and even in some regional events we have performed well, but we know it will be most challenging in South Africa,' he said.
'But we are still very upbeat. We started a preparatory camp in August 2008, where we did four to five days a week of training at our ground. The training is focused on fitness and fielding sessions and we've played in tournaments to prepare, including the ACC Trophy Challenge, which wasn't a major tournament but we were the champions of that and it gave us the extra turf practice we needed.'
Hemel's side also managed to squeeze in some extra practice ahead of the tournament in South Africa with a trip to Sri Lanka and he hopes all hard work the side has put in will pay off now.
'As a team what we have planned is to play good cricket, concentrate on what we are doing and, as we know, one-day cricket is all about that day's performance, so basically we're just keeping our focus simple. We want to finish in the top four and qualify for the World Cup.
'We know it's going to be quite challenging and hard, but the good thing is that we have faced many of the teams before with successes against Namibia and Uganda so now it's up to us to beat the likes of Canada, Ireland and Scotland, which won't be easy but let's hope the wickets are cricket friendly and then we would live up to the expectations we as Oman have for the tournament.'
Hemel added that to take his side to the World Cup in 2011 would be a huge coup for his team, especially since cricket was not the most popular sport in his home nation.
'As far as cricket is concerned, in Oman the number-one sport that the population loves is football. Now when it comes to cricket if we are qualifying via this tournament for the World Cup it would generate a lot of a local interest as Oman has never played in the world arena of any major sports – football, cricket, tennis – any of them. So I think it could be really great for us.'
Oman (squad): Hemal Mehta (captain), Sultan Ahmed, Nileshkumar Parmar, Vaibhav Wategaonkar, Awal Khan, Farhan Khan, Syed Amir Ali, Haider Ali, Syed Maqsood Hussain, Ameet Sampat, Rafeeq Mohammed Al Balushi, Khalid Rasheed, Hemin Desai, Adnan Ilyas, Syed Tariq Hussain.