Captain of the Oman team which recently became the lowest ranked team to qualify for the 2016 World T20 tournament, the Pakistan born Sultan Ahmed can rightly be proud of his team's achievement. The thirty-eight year old wicket-keeper batsman has been an inspirational figure in his team's success and in an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net spoke about his team's monumental success in qualifying for the ICC T20 World Cup 2016 to be played in India.
PakPassion.net: You started your cricket career in Pakistan, how did you end up in Oman?
Sultan Ahmed: I am originally from Karachi. In terms of my cricket background, I played zonal under 14 and under 16 cricket as well as First-Class cricket where I represented Karachi Whites and also in List A matches where I played for Karachi Blues.
I came over to Oman in 2000, with the intention to play cricket for a local firm but as time passed by, the firm decided to take me on as a permanent employee. I continued playing cricket for this team who were champions of the local league for about eight years. As for myself, within four years of playing cricket in Oman, I became eligible to play for the Oman national team.
PakPassion.net: Tell us a bit about the other members of the Oman Cricket Team?
Sultan Ahmed: We have a great mixture and combination of players originating from Pakistan and India. We have eight Pakistani players of which a few have played First-Class cricket in Pakistan as well. Of these players, we have Zeeshan Siddiqui who was also man of the match for his match winning 51* in the now famous game against Namibia which helped us secure our World T20 spot. He and I play for the same domestic team in Oman where he has been a strong performer. He has also played under-19 cricket in Pakistan and has been a strong performer in our local cricket competitions.
We also have the twenty-six year old Jatinder Singh who has been steadily improving as a batsman for the Oman team. He is a completely home-grown talent as he was born in Oman and learnt his cricket in the country. Aamir Kaleem is the vice-captain of our team and I would like to mention his name as he has also been instrumental in our latest successes. He is an all-rounder who has been with the team for almost six years. He recently showed his batting prowess during our victory against Scotland in the ICC World Twenty20 qualifier where he scored 59. And no description of our team would be complete without the mention of our “Malinga” - a fast bowler by the name of Munis Ansari who has a very similar action to the Sri Lanka bowler. He is our spearhead and his performance has also been excellent in the past few years.
PakPassion.net: Turning to Oman's historic qualification for the World T20 now, did you ever think that such a day would ever come?
Sultan Ahmed: You always dream of such things but those dreams actually becoming reality is quite something! Personally speaking, I have always had a passion to play cricket although, it was disappointing that I could not play for Pakistan but that's how life is. I moved to Oman and continued with my passion for the Oman team and yes, qualifying for such a prestigious world event is a dream come true for all of us.
PakPassion.net: Have you started to think about which teams you will be playing against in the World T20 or the famous players you will get to compete with?
Sultan Ahmed: Its important as a junior member of the cricketing fraternity to not get too overwhelmed by this opportunity. Our approach from now until we compete in the World T20 will be to take things one step at a time. This has also been the case in the way we have qualified. We have struggled in the past and this is probably our fourth attempt at qualification, twice in the fifty over game and the same in T20s. But we never gave up and concentrated on the smaller targets instead of worrying about bigger goals. But let me tell you that we worked very hard to get to this stage. We have been playing tournaments for the past six months. We even came a little earlier to Ireland to acclimatize ourselves. So really our preparations had been pretty good.
Looking ahead, we will never be overawed by any team we face. This is the way we are. Even in the World T20 qualifiers, we played against some good teams as Netherlands and Afghanistan who have a lot of international experience and they have also played in World Cups before. Our aim will be to play to best of our abilities and compete against any team that we come up against. Obviously, due to our backgrounds, we would love to play against Pakistan or India at the World T20. Both teams have some world class players and I am sure it will be enjoyable and a great learning experience for us as well.
PakPassion.net: How has the reaction been in Oman to news of your qualification?
Sultan Ahmed: It has been brilliant. When we won the match against Namibia, we were absolutely bombarded with messages of congratulations by friends, family and our supporters. It's great for our cricket back in Oman and the administrators are already thinking about what preparations can be done for the team to ensure we compete well in 2016.
As for our welcome, on our return home we received a hero's welcome with hundreds of cricket fans turning out at the airport waving flags, and holding huge placards and banners praising the team. However, from a personal point of view, I would like to state what I said before which is that I would like to dedicate this special occasion to my late mother and to the father of my teammate, Khawar Ali, who also passed away recently. Without their guidance, both of us would never be at the stage we are today.
What I am really happy about is that due to our qualification, there will be a positive effect on popularity of cricket in Oman amongst the youth and we will also get more exposure in the international media as well.
PakPassion.net: Tell us about the domestic cricket structure in Oman. Is it well organized?
Sultan Ahmed: Contrary to what many people think, Cricket is very well structured in Oman. We have plenty of good and well maintained cricket grounds in Oman with professional ground staff and curators in attendance. Almost 600 players play in our domestic cricket setup which is organized on a divisional basis. We have eight teams competing in the most senior division and the quality of cricket is of a high order. We have separate tournaments for T20 and One-Day formats. What we do need is sponsorship for players and one hopes with the team's qualification and media exposure, we will be able to bridge this gap as well.
PakPassion.net: What was Derek Pringle's role in your teams performance during the World T20 qualifiers? Also what are your impressions of Duleep Mendis as your head coach?
Sultan Ahmed: As a technical advisor, Pringle has been a great help and been truly amazing. His knowledge of local conditions and his immense international experience was crucial for our success. He would help us understand the conditions and help us work on bowling plans against the opposition. He was present at all our practice sessions and would provide guidance for our fast-bowlers in particular. Since we all speak English, there were no issues in communication and we could make full use of his vast experience.
Coming to the subject of Duleep Mendis, as you know he is a vastly experienced former captain of Sri Lanka and our head coach for the past two years or so. We owe him a great debt of gratitude for his role in our team reaching such heights. He has truly been of great help to us and each of the players has received invaluable assistance in their development and our performances are a reflection of his hard work with us.