But that could be about to change on Sunday as Oman, along with neighboring United Arab Emirates, is set to host the T20 World Cup.
Originally scheduled to take place in India, it was decided earlier this year that the tournament would be shifted amid the Covid-19 pandemic. So Oman, which built its first grass cricket pitch just 10 years ago, offered their services.
“There is never an ally [on the International Cricket Council] Hosted the World Cup. And not only that, have also played together in one. This is a great height for us in Oman.”
Not so long ago the idea of hosting an international cricket tournament would have been unimaginable. In the center were a handful of brown pitches with solid wickets, one of which was later updated to Astroturf.
Every year, stones and pebbles were painstakingly removed from the outfield and sand was laid on the surface. But that hardly made the prospect of diving for a catch more appealing.
“You’ve never dived,” Khimji explains. “You can get second, third degree burns from scratching the skin – it was vicious earth.”
Needless to say, playing conditions have improved dramatically ahead of Oman’s T20 World Cup first match against Papua New Guinea at the Al-Amrat Cricket Stadium, located 18 kms from the capital of Muscat.
The stadium’s seating area – which previously consisted of 52 park benches under trees – has been upgraded to a 5,000-seat infrastructure; The lighting of the venue has been enhanced and a press box and media center have also been added – all in a span of 90 days.
This year is the seventh edition of the T20 World Cup: 45 matches that run from 17 October to 14 November.
Oman will fight a preliminary group consisting of Papua New Guinea, Scotland and Bangladesh, from which the top two teams qualify for the Super 12 – the later stages of the tournament.
Supported by 4,000 home fans in each game, Khimzi is confident that this Omani team – “a good vintage” – can qualify for the next round. However, he says that on-field success is just one part of the goal.
“If I can put Oman in the minds of cricket audiences globally and how beautiful it is, and yet if one in 50 starts looking on the internet and says: ‘Hey, what’s happening in Oman?’ And start exploring Oman, that in itself will be a great achievement,” he says.
According to Khimji, football, sailing and fishing – which benefit from the country’s extensive coastline – are all popular in Oman.
Meanwhile, the cricket team is made up of part-time players who balance their sporting commitments with nine to five jobs.
“Every time they play a tournament, they have to get permission from their so-called employers to release them from national team duty,” says Khimji.
“Sometimes, it’s a challenge. More often than not, these employers have been very, very helpful… Some of them have kept their jobs, some of them were given stipends every time they went out to play Is.”
The pandemic has delayed the start of a grassroots program in Oman, in which four hours of cricket will be played every week in schools across the country.
Once this foundation is in place, standout players will have a chance to play professional or semi-professional cricket.
But for those who will represent Oman at this year’s World Cup – almost all of whom are expatriate players – the rewards will not necessarily be financial.
“In 10 years’ time, they will be telling stories to their kids about how their father played cricket in the World Cup,” says Khimji.
“I guess that’s what it’s all about now. They’re all playing for pride, passion, family, country, friends. I’m so proud of the herd.”
Before those stories can be told, a historic sporting moment awaits for Oman as the T20 World Cup is just a bowl of a ball and a swing of a bat away.
Credit : www.cnn.com